LETTER: Real Concerns for Structural Integrity, Safety, Environmental Impacts and Traffic at 200 Pemberwick

Submitted by Steven C. Hall, Greenwich

Once again, the failure of the town over many years to address affordable housing adds to the list of recent State statute 8-30 g applications. Previous applications threaten to radically change the character of the downtown. This most recent pre application at 200 Pemberwick Rd. has similar impacts. Furthermore it also faces significant environmental, safety and damage impacts to an outlying, long neglected and primarily working-class section of town. This neighborhood filled with first responders, teachers, healthcare workers and town employees will be at risk of the consequences from the latest proposal.

For the past 50 years, flooding of the Pemberwick Valley has been an annoying “can” that the town government has kicked down the road. When the town opted to avoid the remedy cost by “kicking” it to the US Army Corps of Engineers, it languished in studies for years. Finally, this year some work is promised to start. Meanwhile some residents have seen their flood insurance costs balloon out of affordability. At a recent district meeting, one flooded out neighbor shared his dismay at the $10,000 per year cost of flood insurance. This is more than he, and others can afford. The flooding has significantly depressed the value of his only retirement asset. With the flood maps changing this year, many more will be included in flood zones.

As to this proposal I speak from both sides of the approval process. I’ve had experience serving on the planning board of a Massachusetts town for several years and in my professional role as a real estate development project manager overseeing the submission of many applications.

This project starts in the dark shadow of a dam immediately above the existing office building. It has been rated by the CT State DEEP as a level “C” hazardous structure and is uninspected for at least the last 10 years. Per DEEP, this dam is required to be inspected every two years. The Selectman have known about this for a number of years and finally have taken action. The First Selectmen stating at the recent D9 meeting that this project will not proceed without an inspection and correction of any deficiencies.

Furthermore, immediately behind the still existing building used as a fitness center, is an approximately 30-foot-high wooden cribbed retaining wall for the embankment above. It was likely built 100 years ago and has lasted long past its intended life, showing points of failure. We recently had a heavy rainfall with flooding that actually went as high as to sweep over the bridge at Comly Avenue. We know that more and likely larger storms will come. The last state report on the dam years ago said there could be significant downstream damage from a dam failure. That coupled with the wall failure would add significantly more damage downstream as well as to the road and properties above. Emergency response would be severely limited if not impossible.

It is common knowledge and experience that all such applications have large supporting engineering studies addressing and then minimizing and, in the end, dismissing all questions of concern. The concerns for structural integrity, safety, environmental impacts, and traffic appear to be non-issues. Claiming only “helpful” and “thoughtful” impacts on the character of the local area. What else would they say?

While any number and size of storm water holding, filtration tanks and/or piping and pumping may be proposed, it is plain commonsense that should prevail. Commonsense says, the sheer magnitude of this project, which is probably at least doubling the additional amount of hardscape and impervious surfaces, will be environmentally damaging and will only add to the potential of flooding. In a recent November meeting with wetlands, the neighborhood was educated on the high risk of flooding and advised on actions they should take to secure their homes and safety.

As to traffic, for anyone that knows Glenville traffic the current actual traffic results in backups and jams for commuters daily. Everyone knows that adding as many as two cars per unit or 440 cars will be a disaster in our village center, negating current corridor improvement plans. Comly Ave will be directly affected as will its pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Pemberwick in either direction with many children, bus stops, and neighbors using the park and playgrounds just down the block. Traffic is hazardous at current levels. Neighbors have been requesting traffic calming measures on Caroline /Fletcher since 2009. At the meeting, the road was described as a “speedway” and is now the new “cut through” on many GPS apps.

The best and highest use of this property can only be for the benefit of the general public and specifically for the local area as a community park. Traffic calming and greenspace are part of the neighborhood POCD. This space should become a naturalized landscaped area designed for runoff and flood control. It could also include a modest amount of truly affordable, net zero energy housing with land sold to Greenwich Communities for that purpose. Can we stop spending millions on vanity projects like granite curbing for just a few years? Shouldn’t we spend funds on real benefits to our citizens in the modest income areas of town for their direct and immediate benefit?

The pre application is on the Jan 10 P&Z meeting agenda. The meeting starts at 4pm. Click here for the agenda, zoom link and call in numbers.