NORWALK — Homeowners fighting to retain their neighborhood of mostly single-family dwellings won the first round last week.
The Norwalk Planning Commission in a 3-2 vote denied a thrice-delayed project to build a 20-unit apartment complex on Barnwall Street due to inconsistencies between the city's zoning and general plan.
The commission refused to consider the project until the discrepancy is resolved. The area is zoned for apartments although the general plan calls for single-family dwellings.
The project has drawn widespread criticism from nearby homeowners who say that putting in high-density housing on a largely residential street would lead to parking problems, higher crime, lower property values and increased traffic.
"We don't blame everything on apartment dwellers. But the more people you put in one area, the more you increase the chances for problems," Marilyn Nishikawa, a Crossdale Avenue resident, said in an interview. "We're not saying don't build anything. Just don't put this great big complex there."
John A. Kepler Construction Inc. wants to build the complex on the northeast corner of Crossdale Avenue and Barnwall. The site at 11113-11125 Barnwall St. currently has two single-family houses.
More than 100 homeowners on Barnwall, Crossdale, Molette Street and Dalwood Avenue signed a petition opposing the project, which was presented to the City Council in February. The residents asked for a moratorium on the building of multiunit housing in the area, but the council referred the matter to the commission.
The homeowners have shown up in force on four occasions to protest the project during a public hearing, which first opened in December and continued during sessions in January, February and March.
Corraling support for the homeowners has been easy, residents say, despite anonymous scare tactics and misinformation aimed at the homeowners.
Several of the residents said rumors--including one that the project had been abandoned--were spread in the neighborhood in an effort to dissuade homeowners from attending the hearings.
"Some residents are being frightened with talk about suing," Nishikawa said.
In addition, an anonymous letter distributed to apartment houses on Ferina Street urged residents to go to the February meeting to protest "a bleak character analysis" of apartment dwellers being spread by homeowners.
Chris Norton, who lives on Ferina Street, said residents were "being pressured" to go along with the project because of the "papers passed out to apartment people."
The commission delayed action on the project in December to address concerns it had about land use and density in the surrounding area. In February, the commission found a discrepancy between the general plan designation and the area's zoning. The general plan--which serves as a blueprint for city planners--designates the area as low-density residential. But the zoning is R-3, which allows multifamily dwellings.
The surrounding neighborhood--an area bordered by Excelsior Drive, Graystone Avenue, Barnwall and Studebaker Road--is also primarily zoned for high-density development. However, the general plan designates the area for low-density residential uses.
Rezoned in 1972
Carmen Gendusa, city engineer, said the inconsistency was caused when the city in 1972 decided to rezone the land to permit apartments once streets and sidewalks were upgraded. The city engineer at that time failed to certify the upgrading, although it was completed.
City officials said the city could accomplish the rezoning by filing the certificate, or decide against it. In effect, the commission has decided to study what is the appropriate zoning for the area.
In addition to denying the project, the commission initiated a study of the general plan for the project site and surrounding area to resolve the question of whether the property should be R-1 or R-3.
If the developer wants to proceed, he must either wait for the outcome of the commission's study or appeal to the City Council.
Commissioner Charles Fuentes said he saw the case as a chance for the city to make its general plan conform to the zoning. "The general plan does not conform to zoning. Let's do something about it," he said.
Plea for Equal Treatment
A spokesman for the developer argued that there have been other multifamily complexes allowed on Ferina Street and Barnwall Street.
"We are dealing with property currently zoned R-3 and it has been for a number of years," said Jim Kepler, representing the developer. "We ask that you grant us the same rights accorded others."
Even though Barnwall Street already has two small apartment complexes mixed in with the homes, Nishikawa said the homeowners "contend there's no more need for housing around here."
One Crossdale Avenue homeowner, Johnny H. Gutierrez, said the homeowners were not trying to prevent the development. He asked the commission to require the developer to reduce the number of units.
"We're a small group of homeowners who want to hold on to something we have. We don't want to be surrounded by apartment units," he said.