The city of Norwalk finds itself in a difficult position with the request of Robert and Lisa Wilkerson. The couple wants to purchase the old funeral home on Benedict Avenue and turn it into a day spa. However, in order to do that they need the city to change the building's zoning designation from residential (R1) to business (B1). But, if the city makes that change, the property could become another business in the future one less desirable to the mostly residential area such as a bar or restaurant.
So, the city is faced with quite the dilemma: Get a new business and a renovated building now or follow carefully thought out guidelines, as laid out in the comprehensive plan, designed to make sure the city has some level of control over the businesses that enter the city.
Thus far, council has taken a smart approach by sending the proposal to the Planning and Zoning Committee for review to "see if we can help them out." We certainly hope the city can find a way to do that. While it is understandable the city wants to avoid this "spot zoning," which could lead to unwanted commercial development, there are other options available.
Currently, day spas are allowed only under city areas zoned B1. However, the city could change the zoning code itself to allow day spas under other zonings that would fit into more residential areas. For example, if the city allowed day spas under R3 usage, they would fall into a category with private clubs, fraternity lodges and real estate offices uses it would seem to more closely resemble than a bar.
The city also would have yet another layer of control because the funeral home property, as well as other areas zoned R1, still would require a zoning change.
Perhaps there are yet unforeseen pitfalls in allowing a real estate office to become a day spa, but the city should not avoid tackling this issue and costing the city a renovated building and new business just because it might be a complicated process.