P&Z Watch: Could Proposed Berkley Office Building Fit in Better on Steamboat Rd Streetscape?

Toward the end of Tuesday’s lengthy Planning & Zoning meeting, the commission discussed  an application from W. R. Berkley Corporation who seek to demolish existing structures on Davenport Ave and Steamboat Road to build a new, three-story office building.

It would have the same square footage as the existing building, but with additional parking as it is currently under-parked.

The company recently purchased the properties at 44-59 Davenport Ave and 537-545 Steamboat Road. They are occupied today by a four-story and two-story office building, as well as both surface and underground parking. They also purchased two residential dwellings and an iron works with office space.

In addition to being non-conforming on parking, the existing office building is non-conforming as to setbacks, site coverage, floor area, stories, and height.

Attorney Tom Heagney and architect Rudy Ridberg represented the applicant whose global headquarters is in the large office building at 475 Steamboat Road, at the corner of Museum Drive, close to the the Bruce Museum, Bruce Park and playground.

The properties to be redeveloped are across the street from the Delamar Hotel, Greenwich Harbor and the town ferry boats.

Mr. Heagney emphasized the benefits to the residential neighborhood, including the plans to multiple close curb cuts on Davenport Ave.

“Rather than those neighbors having to deal with commercial traffic associated with the warehouse and office building, that would be closed off,” Heagney said.

He explained that Davenport Ave was just under 40 ft wide in terms of right of way, there might be an opportunity to provide residential parking along the road.

“It also allows us to put a great deal of screening along there,” he added.

Mr. Heagney said the proposal would fall under CT General Statutes, rather than 6-141, the town’s regulation on non-conformity.

“We would be conforming with the office use on this site,” he said.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban and commissioner Mary Jenkins said there were zoning theory questions related to nonconformity, and Alban suggested the applicant research relevant case law.

Most of the feedback was about the building facade.

Office building to be demolished at left.

Delamar Hotel at left; building to be demolished in background at right.

Greenwich Harbor viewed from Delamar Hotel

“What you’re proposing on Steamboat is completely inconsistent with that streetscape,” Alban said.

She asked if the client would consider exploring ways to make the facade on Steamboat Road consistent with the Delamar.

“At least echo it somehow,” she said.

The commissioners said the condominium development just to the south of the development site was attractive, and noted Mr. Ridberg had designed them.

The P&Z commission hope the new office building can fit in with the condo buildings designed by Rudy Ridberg next door on Steamboat Road.

“If you did something like that here… You got the idea of where I’m trying to go to?” Alban asked. “Couldn’t you make this a really pretty stretch of street? The Delamar is a little jewel in Greenwich, and that leads you up to Bruce Park.”

Mr. Heagney pointed out that Berkley’s office building at 475 Steamboat Road was 100,000 sq ft of glass and granite.

“I get why your client wants to mimic their building. It’s their prerogative,” Alban said. “But if you could at least ask them if they would be willing to do something to preserve…It would just be prettier for the neighborhood.”

“I’m troubled by the idea that there is going to be a face of a building right on the street when there’s water right across the street,” Ms Jenkins said. “Is there a way to minimize the visual effect right on Steamboat Rd. I think the town would appreciate that.”

“The Delamar – and because of Bruce Park and the Island Beach (ferry) – it’s a tourist area for us. It is a magnet for visitors to Greenwich, could we make it more appealing?” Alban asked.

Commissioner Peter Levy said the impact of the large office building at 475 Steamboat was minimized because it is set so far back from Steamboat Road.

“The streetscape becomes an opportunity to create something consistent with our downtown,” Levy said. “There is kind of an urbanized idea of meeting the sidewalk, but then there is greenscape and details and materials and scale and door openings, window treatments, and roofline that can all modulate how the corner is perceived. ”

“I think that it’s an exciting project because it’s a great opportunity to improve what’s there,” Levy added.

“This is our first pass,” Mr. Ridberg said. “I wanted to respect the Davenport residential neighbors more than the streetscape. We were trying to push off that property line.”

“I’m not asking for more setback on Steamboat,” Alban said.

Alban said she understood the applicant’s consideration of residential neighbors on Davenport, but asked them to also consider enhancing the presence on Steamboat Road and the “touristic element” there.

“The corner is an important corner,” Mr. Ridberg agreed.

“I want to find a way to make it work downtown,” Alban said.

Anne Noel Jones agreed the Steamboat Road streetscape was important.

“You don’t notice the Berkley building at all because it is high up and set back,” Jones said. “It would be nice to have something that feels warm and welcoming.”

Heagney said they had given priority to protecting Davenport Avenue and the benefits to neighbors of eliminating curb cuts.

“We’ll have to think more on the Steamboat side,” he added.

“See you when you come back,” Alban said.

Building to be demolished on right. Delamar Hotel on left.

View from corner of Davenport Ave of the Berkley building, which is set back from Steamboat Road.

View from ground level parking for existing office building of condominium buildings to the south.

See also:

Berkley Insurance Co Seeks to Demo Several Buildings in Area of Steamboat Rd, Construct New Office Building