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

Landlords and business owners on Greenwich Avenue shared strong concerns about the proposed removal of 43 parking spaces on Greenwich Avenue as part of proposed intersection improvements at two intersections.

While there is general agreement that the intersection at Elm Street, completed in June 2021, with its “bumpouts,” is attractive and safer for pedestrians, the negatives are a loss of parking and the challenge posed for drivers.

The next two intersections are Grigg/Fawcett and Havemeyer/Arch.

The improvements were presented as a pre application by DPW engineer Jason Kaufman.

Commissioners noted the impetus for creating intersection bumpouts that shorten pedestrian crosswalks was the elimination of police officers directing traffic at the intersections.

There are about 90 crashes a year on Greenwich Ave. Between Jan 1, 2017 and April 1, 2020, there were about 15 crashes at the intersection of Arch St and Havemeyer Pl and about 10 crashes at Fawcett Pl and Grigg St.

According to Kaufman, angled parking, heavy traffic, and poor sight distances contribute to crashes. A wide roadway cross-section, double parking, end-parking, and large SUVs contribute to poor sight lines for pedestrians crossing Greenwich Ave.

“Today I heard the term ‘pedestrian friendly,’ but not everyone can walk to Greenwich Avenue. I live in Riverside and have to drive to Greenwich Ave to actually be a pedestrian.”

– John Martin, attorney for unnamed Greenwich Avenue property owner

Kaufman promised DPW plans to do outreach through hearings at Selectmen and P&Z meetings, meet with stakeholders at adjacent properties, community and volunteer groups, RTM and BET subcommittees, BOE and senior center.

In all, the intersection bumpouts will incorporate 3600 sq ft of green space, add new sidewalks, curbing, pavement, improved lighting, signage, benches, bike racks and decorative crosswalks. Existing light poles will be relocated closer to the corners of each intersection to improve visibility. There will be new benches, bike racks and trash receptacles.

What’s the catch? A loss of 43 parking spaces on the Avenue.

Arch and Havemeyer

Arch St will be realigned to be directly across from Havemeyer Place. Though the commissioners noted most people have gotten used to the existing intersection, by straightening it out, drivers won’t feel like they’re going the wrong way up Greenwich Ave. Parking spaces adjacent to intersections will be removed and replaced with bump-outs in response to cars backing out of the diagonal spots into crosswalks. Nine diagonal spots will be added along Arch Street.

Grigg and Fawcett

Down at Grigg and Fawcett, the crosswalk by Meli-Melo will be removed and parking spots in front of the Apple store removed and replaced with a ride-share, pick up/drop off area. There will be bumpouts and a crosswalk just north of the Apple Store and another set of bumpouts at Fawcett.

Kaufman said the DPW was aware of the concerns about loss of parking, but that although there are 43 spots being removed, 3 new ADA spots would be added on the Ave and 14 new spaces adjacent to the Ave.

At the intersection of Arch and the Ave, there would be a “slip lane” from Arch to the Avenue, possibly with a stop bar. The commission said they were worried drivers might speed as they swing right.

“People zoom. If they can swing a right, they’ll do it, and they’ll do it fast,” Alban said.

Ms Alban said that America is a nation that loves its vehicles, but that economic vitality there is a lot of research that improving pedestrian friendliness boosts retail.

“I know they are simultaneously concerned about the parking, but there is research as cities try to become more pedestrian friendly that we can wean people away from parking 3 ft away from their retail destination and become more sustainable.”

“You’re meeting what we set out, and what we have community support for, but at the same time I recognize that the business owners are concerned about the net loss of parking spaces.”

Ms Alban said the improvements work toward POCD goals including preservation of community character and enhancing pedestrian circulation. “I believe it boosts the Avenue economically. The only concerns that were raised when we did the first bump out (Elm Street) was the issue of parking and disability access.”

DPW engineer Jason Kaufman presented a pre-application for Greenwich Avenue intersection improvements to the P&Z commission on Jan 20, 2022.

During public comment, Horst Tebbe said in his experience as a driver, the intersection at Elm Street was less than ideal.

“There is vast confusion about who goes next. If one car gets through and then you should be the next car to go, but then a bunch of pedestrians start to cross – and then it’s usually not one, it’s several. By the time all that crossing is finished, the drivers have forgotten about who is next,” Tebbe said. “Invariably, both drivers – on Elm St and Greenwich Ave – both start to go, and then someone has to yield.”

“I think you absolutely have to have a way to direct traffic,” Tebbe continued. “The only way I can think of is to have traffic lights. This confusion on Elm Street is ridiculous.”

Most of the public comment focused on the loss of parking.

Lucy Krasnor opposed the removal of parking spots. “Greenwich Ave is basically like New York City’s 5th Ave. We have to keep it vibrant. If it’s impossible to find a place to park, people will simply not use the Avenue, and it make commercial retail less viable. I don’t think these bumpouts are needed. I don’t think it’s a dangerous situation and removing the parking is a terrible idea.”

Martin Rader of Loricella Associates, said he’d been part of Greenwich Avenue since his grandfather opened a produce market at 116 Greenwich Ave a century ago. Currently his family real estate business owns properties at 362 Greenwich Ave (home to Meli-Melo), 116-118 Greenwich Ave, and 319 Greenwich Ave.

He said his organization objected to the loss of parking in front of Meli-Melo and to the north of the restaurant.

Alyssa Keleshian Bonomo described landlords as the eyes and ears of the Avenue. She objected to the loss of 13 parking spaces in the area of Grigg and Fawcett.

“The residents and shoppers need convenient ways to park. The only way to retain resident shoppers is to have parking. The only way to retain merchants is to have parking available to their customers.”

She said the idea of a pick up and drop off are in front of the Apple store was unrealistic.

“If people want to Uber into town, they’ll want to be dropped off right where they want to go,” she said. “Please include all the stakeholders in the area.”

Helen Nitkin, owner of 1 Fawcett Place, she said she was concerned that the design, rather than being safer, would result in jaywalking.

Realtor and landlord Susan Fleisher said her father came to town in 1956 and her family had sold Richards to the Mitchell family. Today they own the building across the street from Richards.

Early in the pandemic, in June 2020, Fleisher was among unhappy Greenwich Avenue property owners when the bottom two blocks of the Avenue were closed to traffic. At the time she testified that the loss of parking was devastating.

“Parking has been an issue since that time. It’s been studied,” she said, adding that taking away spots at the intersection of Fawcett, Grigg and Greenwich Ave would drive away customers.

“We’re taking away 50% of those spots,” she said. “I hear complaints from my tenants that their customers drive around, and circle and circle, and when they can’t find a spot they leave the Avenue and most probably buy online.”

“I found the town very supportive of restaurants, which I support, but not as supportive of the merchants who need the parking,” she added.

Aerial view of proposed changes to intersection of Greenwich Avenue at Fawcett Place and Grigg Street.
Aerial view of existing intersection of Greenwich Avenue at Fawcett Place and Grigg Street.

Attorney John Martin representing an unnamed property owner on Greenwich Avenue said, “These are huge numbers that will be incredibly impactful, have ripple effects on the tenants, retailers and building owners.”

“Today I heard the term ‘pedestrian friendly,’ but not everyone can walk to Greenwich Avenue. I live in Riverside and have to drive to Greenwich Ave to actually be a pedestrian.”

Mr. Kaufman referred to the loss of 43 parking spaces as “a small percentage of hundreds of parking spaces available for the public to park in.”

Specifically, he said there were 411 spaces on the Ave. Seven percent would be removed.

He explained that 39 of the spaces to be removed were in unsafe locations and contributed to crashes.

Further, he said the loss of 43 lost spaces would be offset by the addition of 14 spots and 3 ADA spots, for a net loss of 29 spots.

“Respectfully, I would disagree,” Mr. Martin said. “Taking away 7% is a huge amount when we’re short 20% or 30% of the spaces we need to have good vitality.”

“The allocation of where some of the spots are being taken, and the concentration on the lower Avenue will impact them more on the lower half of the Ave,” Martin added.

Courtney and Guy Sutton agreed with other landlords about loss of parking on the Avenue.

“It is startling that we are at such a deficit that you are minimizing the impact, and especially our real estate investment company with multiple buildings downtown. One of them is 360 Greenwich Ave. There is an unfair concentration of parking loss in our block,” Mr. Sutton said. “You’re spreading the loss of over 400 spaces on the street, but the concentration is in front of us, and it’ll negatively impact our tenants and the desirability of our buildings.”

Sutton said his group was the landlord of both the post office building at 44 Amogerone and 87 Greenwich Ave, which has one of the only private parking lots on the Avenue.

He said when the post office was moved to Amogerone, the town removed the 15 minute parking spots.

“A couple years ago someone from the Traffic Dept decided to turn them into two-hour spots, and there was no parking any more because there was no turnover. Customers of the Post Office overran our private parking lot. We eventually had to put up a gate. That gate has been broken twice by enraged people trying to park.”

Mr. Sutton said he can see Greenwich Avenue from the windows of his office. “(We) constantly see something equivalent to road rage. It’s parking rage. People can’t find parking spots on the Avenue. They go around and around and around. They get angry when they think somebody stole their spot. This is a very serious problem. Please do not minimize the importance of every spot we have on the Avenue.”

Greenwich Tree Conservancy director JoAnn Messina asked for confirmation that there were no plans to remove trees for the improvements, and that trees be planed in the new green areas. She asked if any green space would be removed from in front of the Havemeyer building (home to Board of Education).

Commissioner Peter Levy said the parking should not be decreased and that he had concerns with the plans.

“There are real issues about parking,” Levy said. “I don’t understand the configurations at all of Fawcett Place. There seems to be a desire to create a geometric solution to the Arch Street plan. It should be generated more by how people walk up and down the Avenue and cross, not this geometric idea that you’re creating a square for people to cross at.”

P&Z commission chair instructed the applicant to work in depth with the business communities.

“Let them talk to the business community and do outreach,” Alban said. “They can hear the people who are most affected.”