NORWALK — A $60-million commercial and residential project, already rejected once by the Planning Commission, has been sent back to that board by the City Council.
Council members said this week that they like plans for the proposed eight-story hotel which would be built on a 20-acre site near the Civic Center. But they said they do not like plans for the accompanying 220-unit apartment complex and are concerned about potential parking problems.
A spokesman for the developer said that in the next two weeks the firm will decide whether to modify the project or drop it.
The developer, London Pacific Investments of Redondo Beach, has also indicated that if the city wants it to put more money into the project, then the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency may have to increase its $3.5-million subsidy.
More Funds Sought
During a three-hour public hearing Monday, London Pacific also asked for a $200,000 increase in its subsidy to pay for design changes suggested last month by the Planning Commission. The council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, refused, pending the planning board's reaction to concerns about the apartment design.
If built, the London Pacific development will be the largest single project in the city. In addition to the hotel and apartments, the project would include a movie theater, retail stores, a restaurant and a six-story office building. It would be built on the site of the former Wright Elementary School.
"This has a lot more studying to be done on it. I want something to be proud of. There are certain deficiencies that are not quite right," said Councilwoman Grace Napolitano.
Councilman Cecil N. Green said the city could not agree to the project the way it is currently proposed.
"All of us have dreamed of a hotel for the past six or seven years," Green said, adding that the idea of a luxury hotel has been "nurtured and hoped for" by the council. But, he said, "if we have to lose our dream and go to another use," the city will do so.
He suggested the Planning Commission refine portions of the residential and commercial sectors and "see if the project can be saved."
"We got a no-win project. The city is asked to spend $3.5 million on a bad project. What is in front of us I would totally be against," Green said. The city's Redevelopment Agency would contribute $3.5 million as an inducement to get the project built in Norwalk.
Several residents, including two planning commissioners, testified at the hearing against the project, citing traffic, parking and design problems. "Just the aspect of parking is a very big concern to me," said Commissioner Luigi Vernola.
If parking for each of the uses is calculated separately, the project would need about 1,280 spaces, said Planning Director Don Rouly. The developer has proposed between 920 and 950 parking spaces under a "shared parking" concept.
Council members also expressed dissatisfaction with aspects of the apartment complex. For instance, members said that the units should have central air conditioning instead of the window units the developer wants to use. The council also wants bigger balconies.
But Dennis Desnoo, a spokesman for London Pacific, said in an interview that the changes the City Council is asking for will cost money.
Options to Be Considered
"If there's a significant change in the residential component, it changes our economic picture," Desnoo said. The company will mull options--which range from filing revised plans to dropping the matter completely--over the next two weeks, he added.
Since the council voted "without prejudice" to refer the matter to the Planning Commission, it would allow the developer to revise the plans and submit them to the city without the usual one-year waiting period, Rouly said. The council did approve a general plan amendment and zone change to allow a triangular-shaped parcel south of the school site to become part of the project.
"I think both the Planning Commission and council are not really opposed to the project," Rouly said, adding that the two bodies basically "have a positive feeling for the project."
Start Date Unfeasible
The developer had once talked about beginning construction in December, but that target date is no longer realistic. No date has been set for the proposal to come before the Planning Commission.
Another issue that looms over the project is a study by the state Department of Transportation on whether to widen the Santa Ana Freeway by one to three lanes. The freeway right of way could infringe on the development. The city received a letter from Caltrans informing officials that studies are under way that could affect a portion of the hotel development.
But council members said Caltrans most likely would not have enough money for the ambitious freeway widening, which is years away.