P&Z Refers Historic Greenwich Ave Intersection Design to Experts on Greenscape Committee

At both Wednesday’s P&Z briefing and Thursday’s meeting, the main attraction was the proposed intersection improvements on Greenwich Avenue: Havemeyer/Arch and Fawcett/Grigg, though most comments focused on the former. The entire Avenue is a Historic National Register District.

First Selectman Fred Camillo, who has passionately advocated for the improvements, said that back in the 1990s there was an effort to do something similar on the Avenue. He noted that was prior to cell phones and the more recent influx of out-of-towners.

Camillo said the improvements were fully funded by a state grant and the effort had the support of Greenwich Police, Greenwich Fire Dept, Greenwich Communities, Commission on Aging, and the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities, as well as owners of local businesses and restaurants.

“It not only beautifies the area, but breaks up a concrete boulevard and enhances public safety,” Camillo said.

DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel said the improvements incorporated Complete Streets concepts of shared responsibility for safety between drivers and pedestrians.

“Drivers have to be partially responsible for their behavior when they go through these intersections. Drivers are human and make mistakes,” Mr. Michel said. “If there is the possibility of a crash, that vehicles are traveling at slower speeds so they can move slowly through the intersections and impact of crashes is minimal.”

Police Officer directing traffic at the intersection of Havemeyer, Arch and Greenwich Avenue. Police officers were taken off traffic duty in 2021. File Photo

One-Way Side Streets?

The commission asked Mr. Michel about the idea of making Arch Street one way, northbound.

“The intersection of Sound View and Arch Street has one of the highest number of crashes,” said commission chair Margarita Alban. “The stop sign is horrendous and people get tired of waiting there. This is what is happening now at Elm Street.”

Mr. Michel said DPW had looked at a variety of safety options for downtown, including building parking structures and pedestrian malls, as well as making side streets one-way, such as Arch, Elm and Lewis. He said research showed making side streets one-way would result in increased traffic volumes, especially on Greenwich Avenue, Mason Street and Milbank Ave.

He said most crashes on the Avenue stemmed from parking, not speeding.

Mr. Michel reminded the commission that the Avenue was originally designed prior to widespread ownership of cars.

He brought up concerns about paving the swath of lawn on the Havemeyer property in order to straighten out the intersection, which would result in a sidewalk much closer to the Bolling monument.

Mr. Michel said that section of lawn was within the town’s right of way.

Further, he said the proposal was not for a raised intersection, which was done at Elm Street.

That said, he added, “We have discussed the crosswalk at the slip lane being raised, which would help people slow down from flying around the corner.”

As for the driveway coming out of the Senior Center, which is infrequently used, he said that might change. The rendering shows it coming out to the Avenue, rather than to Havemeyer, which it does currently.

The driveway from the Senior Center/Greenwich Arts Council building is redirected directly onto Greenwich Avenue in the current rendering.
Large “patios” would be “collection points” for pedestrians waiting to cross. Jim Michel from DPW said they would dovetail nicely if the town decided to install traffic lights at the intersection.
Bolling monument on the lawn of the Havemeyer building, home to the Board of Education. July 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Cars waiting at the intersection of East Elm and Greenwich Avenue. July 7, 2022

Ms Alban said numerous emails to P&Z had fallen into 4 broad categories:
• Safety
• Parking and traffic
• Consistency with Historic National Register District and respect for the historic monuments
• Aesthetics, including the amount of green space, landscaping, design of the landscaping, and environmental sustainability

“Starting with safety, the complaint we get in a ton of emails is the Elm Street bump outs have not eliminated some of the concerns for pedestrians coming across, and there is still confusion at Elm Street,” she said, though she shared that she liked the concept of bumpouts to enhance safety and supported the objective overall.

“We (the commissioners) have been walking it on a frequent basis. The traffic and pedestrian volume is big, and the Avenue is vibrant – and bump outs really are not the whole solution. That’s why (the commission) raised the idea of considering traffic signals and finding historical ones from the 1930s that are consistent with the contributing structures.”

Mr. Michel said traffic lights on the Avenue would be required to “dangle” over each lane, per code.

Ms Alban disagreed. “Why?” she asked. “We’re not getting federal or state funding (for lights).”

Mr. Levy agreed. “Other towns have done this. Especially in historic districts.”

On the topic of the “patios” at the intersection corners, Mr. Michel said they would serve as “collection points” for pedestrians waiting to cross, and would dovetail nicely if traffic lights were installed in the future.

He said up to 800 pedestrians pass through the intersection of Arch and Havemeyer per hour.

Of the 90 crashes on Greenwich Ave over the past three years, Mr. Michel said they were spread along the length of the Avenue, and that the intersection of Havemeyer/Arch did not stand out for having crashes.

Later, during public comment, Steph Cowie, from the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities, said traffic data did not account for numerous near misses.

“Mishaps are never reported,” she said, adding that there was no data on the number of people driving the wrong way up Greenwich Ave.

The commissioners said they were concerned about the amount of pavement in the form of bump outs, patios and wide sidewalks, and preferred green space.

But during public comment, Alyssa Keleshian cautioned against the proliferation of flower beds in the bump outs because DPW did not having the manpower to maintain them.

“There’s a lot of weeds up and down the Avenue and on the curbs. There’s overgrown weeds in the flower beds outside Hinoki – the weeds are now taking on flowers.”

Weeds in the existing bump out at the corner of Fawcett and Greenwich Avenue. July 7, 2022
Weeds in the existing bump out at the corner of Fawcett and Greenwich Avenue. July 8, 2022
Plantings in bump out beds at the Elm Street intersections. July 8, 2022

Keleshian added, “If you look at even the Elm Street bump outs, while they’re pretty now, in the winter they’re barren and there’s mulch all over the place. I know the (DPW) manpower is tight, before we put in any more greenspace we need to be able to manage it. There is brown grass all over the Avenue.”

Ms Alban responded that easy-to-maintain evergreen plantings consistent with the National Register District were being considered.

“We’re headed in the direction of history, and the history turns out to be lower maintenance. We think that may be a win-win.”

Mr. Michel said plantings would need to be salt tolerant. He explained that since there is no place to store snow removed by snow plows, the town relies on salt to melt the snow.

He also agreed DPW and the Parks Dept struggled to manage existing landscape beds, and that they would look for local businesses to volunteer to take care of them.

Ms Keleshian said it was imperative to preserve as many parking spots on Greenwich Ave as possible.

Michael Spilo, chair of the RTM Public Works committee, said the loss of parking spots on Greenwich Ave and creation of new parking spots in the vicinity of the Ave was “not apples to apples.”

“I want a more comprehensive list of where the parking spots are added,” he said.

Mr. Spilo said he had concerns about the intersection design, and its impact to traffic flow.

He suggested speeding was not a problem on Greenwich Ave. He said according to state data, the average speed on the Ave was just 19 miles per hour.

Matt Popp, a local landscape architect, said the intersection design was “very engineered.”

“The walkways don’t align and the landscape beds are cluttered,” he noted.

“I can’t figure out why there is a bypass lane in the middle of the bump out,” he continued. “This is too important a project to be designed in-house by DPW staff.”

“The POCD guiding principle No. 1 is to preserve community character and sense of place. The Historic District Commission voted 8-1 against (the design) and this application failed to meet that guiding principle.”

Alex Popp said the fly lane was unsafe. “And I don’t think it increases safety. It’s another hazard for people driving down the Avenue.”

David Wold listed concerns including a troubling sight line for people walking north on Arch Street in the area of Bolling Place and the BOE parking lot.

“You can’t see the traffic coming southbound,” he said.

Also, Wold said that with the addition of the fly lane and island, pedestrians waiting to cross would have multiple options to cross, and that would confuse drivers.

“That’ll lockup cars in the intersection,” he said.

Design Sensitive to the Historic District

At Monday’s briefing, commissioner Peter Levy urged a creating a design sensitive to the Beaux Arts architecture in the vicinity.

“This kind of design was not meant for such a complicated intersection,” Levy said. “The idea of imposing this design is a generic one, and I don’t think you can just…do it anywhere. It might not be an appropriate idea for this intersection.”

Levy talked about preserving “the asymmetric axiality” of the historic district that includes the obelisk and triangle in front of the historic post office building.

Referring to Elm Street, he said, “The problems there seem to be repeated here.”

“The point is to do no harm,” he added.

Levy also said the “island” by the proposed fly lane was confusing for both pedestrians and drivers.

“It’s very awkward,” he said. “That is a very tough thing to ask a pedestrian – to cross to the island. It’s not a good solution. Depending on the traffic flow, it can create a lot of confusion and I don’t think it’s very safe….You have four corners, and now all of a sudden, someone who goes onto the island is in the traffic flow instead of being protected from the traffic flow.”

The issue of being consistent with the historic district was also subject of a lengthy discussion among the Historic District Commission on Wednesday, June 22 (HDC Feedback on Havemeyer/Arch Bumpout: Respect ‘The Soul of Greenwich’). (HDC is advisory to P&Z).

Proposed patios at the corners of Hinoki, Mediterraneo and Meli-Melo.

Grigg and Fawcett Intersection

There was less discussion about the Grigg/Fawcett intersection.

Mr. Michel said HDC had suggested making the crosswalk at Fawcett “more parallel than askew.”

He explained that the patio areas at Meli-Melo and Mediterraneo restaurants were originally going to be green spaces, but were switched to pavement, but overall, he said the intersections would result in a reduction in impervious surface.

(Also, the initial design was for an Uber drop off area in front of the Apple Store. That has been eliminated.)

“One issue that surfaced at the briefing is that 3 restaurants are getting lovely sidewalk dining, but not the rest of the Avenue, and that doesn’t seem fair,” Ms Alban said.

Mr. Michel responded, saying, “The patios are put in for safety to make the intersections function better, not to give some people unfair treatment.”

During public comment, Jonathan Martin said creating patios for restaurant use with tax payer funds was “grossly inequitable to retailers.”

“How the outdoor seating is now, it can be removed in the winter,” he said, referring to the jersey barriers forming ‘nodes.’

“Retailers rely on 60% of their business between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Mr. Martin said.

“Turning something into a patio for two restaurants isn’t fair to the neighbors,” he added.

Traffic on Greenwich Avenue at dusk approaching the intersection of Havemeyer and Arch Street Photo: Leslie Yager

Next Steps

Thursday’s P&Z discussion ended with an agreement that P&Z would refer the design to the Greenscape Committee, which includes two landscape architects – Richard Hein and John Conte – as well as representation from the Conservation Commission, Mr. Michel from DPW, JoAnn Messina from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, and Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer. The committee also includes town planner Katie DeLuca, but intentionally does not include P&Z commissioners.

Ms. Alban said it was important that the design be in keeping with the historic Beaux Arts design and that it “bring the eye to important monuments.” 

“There is no interest in the community for something that looks modern, techie and engineer-ie,” Alban added.

The chair asked Mr. Michel not to be disappointed. She said she hoped the Greenscape Committee could present a new design to P&Z by August or September.

No motion was needed to refer to the Greenscape committee.

“We’re hoping we can address enough issues that this will become non-controversial,” Alban said.

“Mr. Camillo kept the Avenue alive during Covid,” she added. “And I think this is another step to preserving the vitality of the Avenue, and it is just a question of getting the execution right.”

Note: this article was updated to put the correct day of the P&Z briefing meeting. It was on Wednesday. Also, the entire Avenue is a Historic National Register District.

Diane Fox
In 2015 a sign was erected reflecting that the Avenue including the intersection of Havemeyer and Arch are part of the Greenwich Municipal Center Historic District. Pictured former Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei and former town planner Diane Fox. Photo: Leslie Yager
Municipal Historic District
In 2015 a sign was erected reflecting that the area including the intersection of Havemeyer and Arch are part of the Greenwich Municipal Center Historic District. Photo: Leslie Yager

See also:

HDC Feedback on Havemeyer/Arch Bumpout: Respect ‘The Soul of Greenwich’
June 23, 2022

Landlords to DPW: Loss of Greenwich Ave Parking for Intersection Improvements Will Impact Property Values, Hurt Retail Jan 23, 2022

Out-Of-Town Drivers Cited for Aggressive Driving on Greenwich Ave during RTM SOMR Testimony on Restoring Officers to Directing Traffic March 9, 2021

Bump Outs on Greenwich Ave Squeeze Through in Close RTM Vote
March 10, 2022

Priorities for Police Presence on Greenwich Avenue Debated at RTM
January 20, 2021

RTM To Contemplate Return of Greenwich Police to Direct Traffic on Greenwich Ave Jan 18, 2021

PHOTOS: Town Leaders Gather for Ribbon Cutting at Traffic Calming Bump-Out on Greenwich Ave June 21, 2021