NORWALK — Planners are adopting a motto of "fewer is better" as they near a decision on amendments to the city's master development guide that would reduce the number of units allowed in apartment zones.
After months of review and a series of hearings, the Planning Commission tonight is expected to cross the final t's on proposed changes to the general plan, making way for a public meeting and a vote on the revisions early next month.
Not only would the amendments cut the maximum number of apartments from 26 to 22 per acre in the city's traditional high-density zone, they would also create a new, multifamily, medium-density zone, where no more than 16 apartments or town houses would be allowed on an acre.
The move to lower density comes in the midst of a city moratorium on apartment construction, sparked in part by neighborhood complaints about a proposed complex on Barnwall Street, and in part by general concerns about the number of apartment projects going up Norwalk.
While Planning Commission member Herb Williams said he sensed no community-wide push against apartments, he noted that the city has witnessed more and more instances of local opposition.
"We have several areas (of apartments) in our community that have been built over a period of time, and right now we're reaching a point where there are an awful lot of problems with traffic and congestion," said Williams, a commission member for the past 17 years. "It seems every place we're putting in apartments . . . we find that we're getting opposition."
All but 22% of Norwalk's 26,338 residences are single-family homes, but a flurry of apartment construction has occurred in recent years, at times encroaching into neighborhoods of detached houses.
"The residents are saying 'Hey, we moved here and stayed here because it's a residential area, and all of a sudden you're dumping 50 times as many cars on us,' " said Councilwoman Grace Napolitano.
The council will vote on the general plan amendments after the Planning Commission is finished with them.
Local concerns notwithstanding, Williams said he has some reservations about the density reductions. "I'm not sure if we go with the lower density that we'll get the kind of development we want," he said, speculating that builders might be frustrated by the tighter restrictions.
So far, said Planning Director Don Rouly, little developer opposition has surfaced. He said that the revisions were not so much a reaction to anti-apartment sentiment as an attempt to make sure that city services are not overtaxed.
Underscoring the potential conflicts of apartments and single-family homes are local zoning discrepancies. In reviewing the Barnwall Street project last spring, city officials discovered that although the general plan called for single-family homes in the area, zoning ordinances allowed apartments.
Rouly said there are about 10 residential areas in the city subject to contradictory planning language, as well as a number of commercial and industrial areas.
As part of its general plan work, the Planning Commission intends to iron out the inconsistencies, matching zoning regulations with the plan, or vice versa. Rouly said that will be done, area by area, once the overall density changes have been acted on by the commission and the City Council.
The creation of a medium-density residential zone would give the city three residential classifications, as opposed to the two it now has: low density, which permits slightly more than eight single-family homes per acre, and the high density. The proposed general plan amendments would increase the number of houses allowed in the single-family zone to nine per acre.
Rouly said he could not predict how many acres would wind up in the different residential zones, nor could he say exactly which areas they would encompass. He also said his staff will not recommend lifting the apartment moratorium--in effect until next spring--until zoning and general plan regulations have been brought into agreement.