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Proposal to revamp old funeral home dead

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:51 PM

A proposal to change the zoning of the old funeral home on Benedict Avenue is dead, but it might be a blessing in disguise for everyone.

Local business owners Rob and Lisa Wilkerson had requested the city change the zoning of the building from residential to business (R1 to B1), which would allow the couple to open a day spa in the location.

However, Norwalk's Planning and Zoning Committee recommended council not make the zoning change, citing Norwalk's Comprehensive Plan, which states spot zoning is bad for the city. The main argument is not that the day spa itself would disrupt the neighborhood, but that changing the zoning would allow many different types of businesses to move into the location, such as a bar or restaurant.

Zoning committee member Kathy Kuhlman told council she could see extending a business zone if it came right up against the property, but that was not the case with the Benedict Avenue funeral home, which is surrounded by residential buildings. Committee member Doug Clifford echoed those comments, saying if the Burger King or McDonald's was 1,000 feet closer, he might favor the change.

Rob Wilkerson still plans to work with the city in the hopes of building a 10,000 square-foot strip mall at the corner of Westwind Drive and Whittlesey Avenue. The Wilkersons still would use the location for a day spa, but it would also have space available for offices and other "light retail stuff."

He admitted the rejection of his original plan could be a blessing.

"Financially, (the strip mall project) makes more sense," he said. "We're going to try to work with the city and get something done."

While this situation has the potential for a happy ending, council member Skip Wilde still expressed his frustration at the zoning committee and council's willingness to let a business walk away because of zoning especially in light of the announcement Epic Technologies was cutting 60 jobs.

"It burns my butt," he said, adding people were quoting the Comprehensive Plan as if it were the Bible.

One person who quoted the comprehensive plan was Jeff Savage, who lives at 170 Benedict Ave. across the street from the old funeral home. He added if council had approved this request developers from other residential areas, such as Sycamore Hills, would be making similar requests.

"Spot zoning is contrary to the aims of council and planners of Norwalk to further develop downtown," Savage told council members Tuesday. "If you start spotting business out in neighborhoods that will be destructive."

When asked by Wilde if there would ever be a situation in which spot zoning would be permitted, Kuhlman said " think there would have to be for the overwhelming good of the city."

Clifford also said each situation is different. For example, Walgreens purchased residential property and needed to have it rezoned to build the new drug store on the corner of Whittlesey Avenue and League Street. That was OK because there were other businesses around that area.

"Walgreens would be the type of example of zoning you'd do ... with other businesses in close in proximity, so we'd maybe enlarged the business zone," he said.

Both Clifford and Kuhlman said they thought the funeral home could be used for other things.

"The obvious use would be a bed and breakfast ... that's one of those permitted uses," Clifford said.

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