A pre-application for a luxury assisted living facility at the end of Old Track Road in Greenwich returned before the Planning & Zoning commission Tuesday.
The applicant is seeking a large Floor-Area-Ratio (FAR) that the commission is uncomfortable with, though it decreased since they appeared before the commission in July.
Attorney Bruce Cohen representing the applicant, Amba Sharma, argued the proposed .9 FAR for the development was necessary and represented the same bonus Greenwich’s Housing Authority receives per Sec. 6-35. RESIDENTIAL-PLANNED HOUSING DESIGN-ELDERLY ZONE (R-PHD-E).
The regulation refers to the “Housing Authority of the Town, or a non-profit sponsor,” not market rate or luxury housing.
It was created about 40 years ago for Greenwich’s housing authority to construct moderate income housing for seniors, not luxury housing.
“We only have a way of doing (housing) for below market rate,” P&Z chair Margarita Alban said. “We don’t have (one for) market rate, and we all agree that is something we should have,” Ms Alban said toward the end of the discussion.
Mr. Cohen said he could justify the FAR bonus. He referred to the commission’s question during their briefing the previous day: What in the applicant’s business model requires increased development density that couldn’t be achieved by raising prices?
“The need for market rate assisted living facilities has been recognized in reports by the Commission on Aging and the POCD,” he said.
He said the R-PHD-E zone had successfully provided affordable housing for seniors. Their application included a detailed list of projects with the ‘E designation’ that had been approved, including 150 units at Agnes Morley Heights on Milbank, 86 units at Merry Go Round Mews, and 33 units at Bishop Curtis at St Catherine’s Church.
Mr. Cohen said the applicant developed and manages a senior facility in Scarsdale, known as The Ambassador, that would serve as a model in Greenwich. He said the Scarsdale residents prefer to pay a monthly fee rather than purchase a unit.
In Scarsdale there are 130 residents, of which 62 are over 90, 116 are over 80. The Ambassador employ 154 staff, which Mr. Cohen said was more than most assisted living facilities, and the payroll was over $7 million.
He said regardless of the number of units, there are a number of required amenities, management and staffing.
“We must have an executive director, a director of culinary services, clinical services, memory care, rehab and PT, and housekeeping services,” Cohen said. “In addition, there are two nurses always available at the facility.”
He said the construction budget is anticipated to exceed $80 million, which includes the $11.5 million paid for the 2-1/2 acres of land on Old Track Road.
Cohen said it would be a deal breaker to further reduce the number of units, not only because the facility would compete with developments in Westchester and Stamford.
“To build this, we have to provide that level of finish, amenities and staffing to create a high-end, high quality senior development,” he said. “To reduce the number of units simply would end up by making this an impossible project…”
“The issue of density is not solvable through prices,” Cohen continued. He said there was a minimum number of units required to carry the investment, and that both the footprint and FAR had already been reduced from 1.1 to .9 since the July meeting.
Also, since July, a proposed interior courtyard, which was not allowed under Connecticut state statute, had since been switched to an exterior courtyard.
Project engineer Bradford Perkins, who said his firm had done about 150 similar developments across the country, said that since the July presentation they had reduced the number of units from 130 to 120.
He said another reason for the higher FAR was that the market preference in a Town like Greenwich was for one bedroom units, not studios.
He said the units are “homes,” and that residents prefer having a living space separate from a bedroom.
The fourth floor would have “premiere” units with Long Island Sound views and additional lounge spaces.
Perkins said the units were set back behind the roof on the fourth floor to make it look more like a three story building.
Since July, most of the proposed parking had been moved underground, at additional expense. Almost 70 spaces are proposed, based on the Scarsdale model of one space per three residents. He noted that few residents actually drive.
The landscaping plan includes outdoor activity spaces including wandering garden, dining terrace, patio with umbrellas, putting green, waterfall terrace, fountain terrace, sensory garden, butterfly garden, nature walk, orchard and evergreen buffer.
Commissioner Dennis Yeskey said the Scarsdale facility is located next to a park.
“This is next to the railroad tracks,” Yeskey said. “Have you done anything to the building to mitigate noise vibrations from the railroad?”
Perkins said his firm had experience with transit oriented development, and projects next to train stations. “There are techniques,” he said. “We’re used to the mitigation measures required next to a rail line.”
“If this is luxury, and I assume you’ll charge high rents,” Yeskey said. “I am concerned about the marketability. To get mom and stick her in one of those rooms next to the trains and charge a very high rent – there’s a market negative.”
Mr. Perkins said the facility would be differentiated by the quality of staff and ratio of staff to residents.
He said the Scarsdale facility has 154 staff, triple the staffing level in a typical US facility for the same number of units.
“The need is there,” he said.
Perkins said he was optimistic, and that other than the railroad tracks, there were no other negative adjacent land uses.
Peter Lowe asked it if would be feasible to reduce FAR to .75.
He pointed out that the underlying zoning allows .5 FAR.
Perkins said the proposal was to use the same FAR as the moderate income housing regulations.
“We did not look at .75 FAR,” he said, adding that successful developments are ideally between 110 and 130 units.
There was discussion about a proposed cut, slope and large retaining wall. Commissioner Nick Macri said due to the number of trees being eliminated, the facility might not be as well screened as people anticipate.
Attorney John Tesei said his client John Ferari had considerable interest in the project as he owns Old Track Road and both the Equinox building and the J Lofts apartment complex, which has about 15% moderate income units out of about 60.
Mr. Sharma’s property includes a road easement for access and utilities. He proposes a cul-de-sac, which Tesei said Mr. Sharma had begun to discuss with Mr. Ferari.
Tesei, noting noted Mr. Ferari owns a substantial amount of property in the GB and GBO zones, said his client was interested in the regulation. He suggested the Town take a step back and look at regulations and how to incentivize assisted living.
There was discussion of the intersection of Old Track Road and field Point Road.
“This is going to be where the bottleneck actually happens,” Macri said, adding that he hoped Mr. Charma would discuss that with Mr. Ferari.
Mr. Cohen said his client is in discussion with the railroad about acquiring an additional piece of land for additional landscaping.
He acknowledged Mr. Yeskey’s comments about the desirability of living next to train tracks, and said the additional land would allow for more robust landscaping.
“I’m still not clear, and would still like to have more information on why you require …that magnitude of FAR bonus,” chair Alban said. “I need more data.”
“Mr. Lowe suggested you consider .75 FAR,” she added. “We had asked you that on July 14, but I still don’t have it.”
Alban said she was concerned about the use of Old Track Rd.
“If you ever had to do an evacuation it could be problematic,” she said. “But I very much support the idea of having a market rate assisted living facility in town.”
Commissioner Dave Hardman agreed.
“From my perspective I think .9 FAR is too much, but having this type of facility in this town would be a great addition,” he said. “We need to look at something that is smaller.”
“Mr. Cohen has his marching orders,” Mr. Macri said.
P&Z Watch: Proposed Luxury Assisted Living Facility May Be Too Big, Too High