During a special Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday several landlords, merchants and members of the Greenwich Property Owners Association turned out to give feedback on the changes to the Greenwich Avenue streetscape, including bump outs and their impact on parking.
The bump out at the intersection of Elm Street and Greenwich Ave is completed and the Dept of Public Works is seeking feedback via their special website on that and several others in the works. (DPW Launches Website Highlighting Five Additional Bumpouts for Greenwich Ave).
Why bump outs?
In 2019 the First Selectman’s budget did not include funding for Greenwich Police officers to direct traffic and pedestrians at the intersections. Police resources have been redeployed to a plainclothes task force and the bicycle unit, which has a new fleet of e-bikes.
An RTM Sense of the Meeting Resolution to keep police directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue failed to pass in March 2021, though the vote was somewhat close, with 81 in favor, 127 opposed and 7 abstentions.
Without signalized intersections and without police directing traffic, cars and pedestrians have had to accommodate each other.
GPOA member Paul Pugliese noted that in the past, residents were accustom to waiting for an officer to tell them to cross, and pedestrians were often scolded if they crossed before they were told to.
Another variable at play today is the influx of a large number of new residents, many from New York City who arrived during the pandemic and have no memory of police directing traffic.
The “bump outs” narrow the two lanes of traffic to slow down cars, but they also create a shorter distance for pedestrians crossing the Avenue from sidewalk to sidewalk.
In addition to traffic serving as a traffic calming measure, the bump outs enhance the aesthetics of the Avenue.
In the process of adding the Elm St bump out, parking spots were lost, and will be lost when the proposed five additional bump outs are added.
First Selectman Fred Camillo said while the proposed renderings on the DPW website show some outdoor dining nodes being removed to make way for additional intersection improvements, that would not happen. He noted the renderings were just preliminary.
Camillo said outdoor dining has proven to be pedestrian friendly.
Landlords spoke in favor of outdoor dining but questioned whether the bump outs were pedestrian friendly at the expense of drivers.
“I understand the bump outs slow you down, but the reality is the Avenue has become more reckless than it’s ever been. I’d like to see a police report because I’ve been told there are incidents on Elm Street.”– Alyssa Keleshian, Greenwich Property Owners Association
The proposed intersection improvements will eliminate a number of parking spaces – the Elm Street bump out resulted in the loss of four spots.
Camillo said the Board of Selectmen had voted to free up parking spaces in downtown 12-hour municipal parking lots for both downtown employees and residents.
Of note was that many downtown residents are no longer commuting to work and had been feeding meters rather than driving.
To date 86 employees on the Ave have made use of the 12 hour lot parking spaces, which are cheaper than feeding meters. That leaves 14 spaces available for employees.
Alyssa Keleshian asked if the town could find even more 12-hour spaces for employees and downtown residents to keep them from feeding the meters at short term parking.
Future of Outdoor Dining
Outdoor dining permits are not necessarily permanent. Katie DeLuca, P&Z director, said originally outdoor dining was allowed as result of Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order.
Then a bill came through that mirrored the Executive Order.
“That’s in play until March 2022,” she said.
“That’s what we’re functioning under at the moment. This is a positive thing in the community, but P&Z would have to take action prior to March 2022 to keep the nodes going.”
Camillo said his board was fully committed to working with P&Z to continue outdoor dining as well as add parking where possible. He said the Parking Services Dept was committed to that as well.
Selectwoman Lauren Rabin, who chairs the Reimagine Greenwich committee, said her group had a hypothesis that many people were unaware of where the Town’s 12-hour parking lots are located.
“Especially if you’re new to town,” she said. “We want to create stylish maps. We’re still exploring some type of transportation from the lots to Greenwich Ave – open air electric cab type vehicles to transport people from the 12 hour lots to the Avenue, for those willing and able.”
“It’s the constant pedestrians crossing. As soon as you think you can move, someone is crossing and no one is stopping to let the cars go by. There has to be a way to pause the pedestrians to let the cars go by every once in a while.“– Selectperson Jill Oberlander
Martin Rader, whose grandfather opened a produce store on Greenwich Avenue in 1910, said his family business owned several buildings in the Greenwich Avenue area, including the building that is home to Meli-Melo.
He said initially he’d looked at the renderings of proposed improvements for intersections and balked at the loss of parking spaces.
“I looked at those renderings and said to myself, ‘My God, they’re taking away all the parking in front of the building. That devalues our building.’ But my objection is ameliorated because I know from Marc (Penvenne) the maintenance of the outdoor dining is very important and there seems to be a commitment. Where we lose parking and that’s a negative. We gain outdoor dining, a positive,” he said.
He noted there is an existing bump out at Grigg Street and Greenwich Ave.
“So I don’t know whether there is a safety advantage on that side of the Avenue by extending the bump out,” he added.
“When I look at those plans online, there is no data. I don’t know how many parking spaces are on the Avenue now, how many will be removed when we have nodes, and how many spaces are used for outdoor dining.”– Tom Torelli, Allied Property Management
Camillo said that of all the proposed intersection improvements, the one at Arch Street and Greenwich Ave would result in additional spaces. Still, he said, “We need more.”
Mr. Pugliese, on behalf of the Greenwich Property Owners Association, said the bump out on Em Street added greenery to the Avenue and made it more pedestrian friendly.
However, he said, “What we didn’t realize was how many spaces were lost. We want transparency that all understand the overall impact on parking. Parking studies have been done since 1940, and the problem is real. I’m encouraged that you’re allotting parking for employees, but there will still be people who don’t want to walk more than 20 ft when they get out of their cars. If they don’t see the parking space they’ll keep driving and that’ll be a problem with the merchants.”
Pugliese said town owner property could be used more efficiently to add parking spaces without increasing impervious surfaces.
Specifically he mentioned Horseneck Lot, Island Beach Lot and the lot near McArdle’s on Arch Street.
“We’re looking at Horseneck lot and Island Beach lot,” Camillo said.
“You could put one deck on top of Horseneck lot, and put green on top and it would provide more parking. The hardest thing is the people who can’t walk that far. When we originally cut off the bottom two blocks for a couple weeks, the stationery store said, ‘People want to park and get in and get out.’ So we opened that up right away. It’s great the restaurants did well, and we want that to continue, but we want every merchant and tenant to thrive.”
Pugliese suggested raising the field behind town hall and adding a level of parking underneath.
Camillo said that was a great idea, but would require funding.
“We need a model with private enterprise. If the town could do a long term lease with revenue sharing to compensate a developer and eventually it is owned by the town,” Pugliese replied.
“That’s one of the things we’re looking at with Island Beach lot,” Camillo said. “The developer would make money, but the town owns the land.”
Selectperson Oberlander cautioned that it was already tricky to cross the street from the Horseneck Lot to the Boys & Girls Club, and warned of unintended consequences.
Tom Torelli of Allied Property Management said, “When I look at those plans online, there is no data. I don’t know how many parking spaces are on the Avenue now, how many will be removed when we have nodes, and how many spaces are used for outdoor dining.”
Torelli said if the town published a map of 12-hour municipal lots, he’d like to distribute copies to his retail tenants.
He also said he thought the landscaping at the Elm Street bump out was “a little overdone.”
“All these trees with openings on the Avenue area there already. Maybe back off on the landscaping on the bump outs,” he suggested.
DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel said a total of 30 parking spots would be removed with the intersection improvements as drafted, including those lost for the outdoor dining nodes. Most intersection improvements would result in loss of parking except the Arch Street bump out, which would add two or three spots.
The Elm Street bump out resulted in the loss of four spots.
Ms Keleshian said as far as beautifying the Avenue, there might be alternatives to the landscaped bump outs.
She suggested looking at the existing tree wells.
Also she said there are “tons of weeks” up and down the curbs and that property owners constantly ask the Tree Dept to prune and upkeep the trees along the Avenue.
“We believe there are ways to beautify the Avenue without going through the exercise we’re discussing, which effects the most important thing, which is the parking,” she said. “I’m told some of those 12 hour lots get full really quick.”
Further, she said, “I think it’s delusional to think a resident is going to park in a 12-hour lot blocks away if they’re going to get a prescription from CVS.”
Keleshian said she’s heard from residents who complain about the lack of “manned corners.”
“It doesn’t have to be a policeman. We’d like you to re look at bringing somebody back to the intersections,” she said. “They’re dangerous. Walking across, driving down the Avenue – anything goes. People are jaywalking. You get to an intersection, nobody knows who goes first.”
Mr. Pugliesei agreed.
“We need to do something to prevent the constant stream of pedestrians from stopping the traffic,” he said.
Ms Rabin also agreed. “I can attest personally, there is a time of day when we might want a corner manned.”
Mr. Camillo noted that the Avenue was busy after 4:00pm, which was when the police officers went off duty from directing traffic at the intersections.
He said he has only heard positive feedback on the Elm St bump outs, and that bicycle officers can jump off their bikes and direct traffic when the intersection is busy.
He said that per state requirements only Police Dept officers are allowed to direct traffic.
“That was the first thing we thought of,” he said.
“I’m telling you what I’m hearing and seeing,” Keleshian added. What my fellow residents and moms are telling me. There is a disconnect between the data and what people are saying. Maybe we can meet in the middle. There is some kind of disconnect. You’re spending all this money to bring people to the downtown because it’s beautiful. But I’m hearing people don’t want to come to the downtown.”
“I hear the opposite,” Camillo said. “And I’m literally walking up and down (the Avenue).”
Selectperson Jill Oberlander agreed with Keleshian.
“I’ll affirm that many people tell me they no longer come to the Avenue because of the traffic and the parking,” she said. “As a resident, from my own experience, driving through town, it’s not that the cars don’t know to stop, it’s that there is a backup in traffic. I don’t take Elm Street any more. People are so frustrated by the delays and pedestrians that when they get to the intersection there is a mad dash to get through. … It’s not that they don’t know they’re supposed to stop…. It’s a behavior issue.”
Camillo assured that the plans would evolve in response to feedback, just as the closure of the bottom two blocks of Greenwich Ave during the pandemic was reversed in response to feedback from merchants.
Jerry Petrone,who said he managed the J Crew building asked if the town had anticipated challenges to snow removal from the bump outs.
Mr. Michel said indeed they had. “Will it be as simple as before? No.But there is a give and take. We feel the payoff of the beautification and safety outweigh the extra labor it’s going to take us to do the clearing during winter.”
Ms Keleshian noted that 25-30 properties were represented at the meeting. As for parking, she said, “Even a net loss of 30 spots is really a lot. We need to add 30, not lose 30.”
She noted that she, Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Torelli represented GPOA and they would like to continue to provide input to the Selectmen.
“We want to be actively involved in the future,” she said. “As you said, ‘This is just a preliminary and those renderings are not necessarily what will go forward.”
Mr. Camillo acknowledged that the board would continue to seek input.