On Tuesday night the Planning and Zoning commission heard a pre-application from Renamba Greenwich LLC, owner of a 2.5344 acre parcel at the end of Old Track Rd, who seeks a new zone: “Assisted Living Facility Overlay Zone,” and permission to develop the property with a 100 one-bedroom unit assisted family facility plus 30 memory care studios.
Renamba is owned by a private developer, Amba Sharma, who also owns The Ambassador at Scarsdale.
The property, located in the General Business (GB) zone, just beyond McDermott Paint and J Lofts.
Previously, the site was owned by RD&D Land Development and used as a yard for its local excavating business. They left behind a small office building, shed and storage containers and piles.
The applicant purchased the property in September 2019 for $11,650,000.
Attorney Bruce Cohen noted Greenwich has no assisted living facilities, and Greenwich residents often wind up going to Edgehill in Stamford (a CCRC) or The Osborn in Rye for assisted living.
In fact, he said there are five Greenwich residents living at The Ambassador at Scarsdale.
The new zone would allow for an overlay in the (GB) General Business zone.
Mr. Cohen said the facility would be governed and licensed as a managed residential community, which must provide assisted living facility services, which he said are spelled out clearly.
“For example, with the assisted living facility core services there must be regularly scheduled meal services three times a day, regularly scheduled laundry service and regularly scheduled transportation for shopping, social, recreational events and health care appointments, and housekeeping and maintenance services and programs of social and recreational opportunities.”
He said the offerings would be extensive and include movies, lectures, outings, exercise classes and games.
Also, Mr. Cohen said per state statute, “An assisted living facility must provide common use space sufficient in size to accommodate 50% of the tenant population. In other words, large spaces aren’t just desirable, they are mandated.”
Former Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei spoke in favor of the development, noting that the Town seeks to be an age-friendly and dementia-friendly community.
Tesei said in the 1990s, prior to becoming First Selectman, he was part of a homeowners association that felt strongly at that time that no development should occur on King Street.
“We were very shortsighted in our opposition to developments that in some cases included facilities similar to this,” he said. “In turn, we wound up, in future years, with more high trafficked developments – primarily educational institutions.”
Tesei said the Commission on Aging is looking to address the needs of the Town’s ever increasing older population and advocating for housing options for residents.
“This particular proposal addresses that, is consistent with the POCD, and is situated in an area with access to amenities that folks may rely upon, such as the hospital, the library and medical offices,” Tesei added.
The former First Selectman recalled that neighbors had complained about the piles of debris left from what he described as “a rock crushing business” previously on the site.
“It’s removing an industrial use, and bringing in a residential use,” Tesei said, adding that the assisted living facility would be a for-profit business that would contribute to the Town’s tax base.
Bradley Perkins, the architect on the project, walked the commission through the layout of the building.
“We designed our (kitchenettes) to be appropriate for Greenwich, which would not be as small as you might find in some other communities,” he said.
Perkins said the fourth floor would afford views of Long Island Sound and have its own special lounge.
He said most of the parking – 39 of 45 spaces – would be underground.
“We’ve done over 600 senior living communities around the US and some other countries, but in assisted living, even though the Scarsdale facility does have some drivers, there are usually no drivers,” he said.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban agreed there was a “huge” pent up demand for market-rate assisted living units in Greenwich, but after having had studied a half dozen affluent or comparably sized communities in Connecticut, she found that none allowed extra FAR for assisted living facilities anywhere near what Renamba’s proposal seeks.
“Overall, your proposed regulation appears to be well researched and and has some solid components,” Alban said.
However, she said there were issues with the proposed density and FAR.
The proposed ALF regulation seeks a residential FAR of .9, and a total FAR of 1.15 in a zone with an underlying FAR of just .5.
“Of the towns I reviewed, none, none, I reviewed offers an FAR bonus for a market-rate assisted living facility,” Alban added.
“Those towns that use FAR seem to have a maximum of about .35 FAR for this type of facility, and the buildings are generally limited to 2-1/2 to 3 stories,” she added. “Towns with inclusionary zoning require a percent of below market units without increasing the allowed size of the facilities.”
Greenwich’s elderly zone allows for a .9 FAR with four stories, but proposals for the elderly zone can only be submitted by the Greenwich Housing Authority, and would be geared toward affordability, not market-rate.
Alban said the Greenwich hospital H-1 zone allows for an FAR of 1.25, but, she said, “The use the applicant is proposing does not require as much infrastructure.”
“I recognize that land in Greenwich is likely priced higher than land in the State,” she continued. “Nevertheless, I would have the expectation that a market rate community would recover its investment through pricing rather than through a volume incentive granted by the Town.”
Alban recommended the applicant reconsider the proposed FAR of 1.15 and four story, 47-1/2 ft high building.
“I note that the underlying FAR of the GB and GBO zones is .5, which is already more generous than that provided in other Connecticut communities. I strongly suggest the applicant work within the existing regulations for a three story building with a maximum height of 40 ft.”P&Z Chair Margarita Alban
Furthermore, Alban said the Ambassador in Scarsdale appears to be only three stories high.
Then Alban went on to say some town regulations require a minimum outdoor space per unit, to enhance resident quality of life.
She said the proposed priority for tenancy (Greenwich residents would get first priority) didn’t make sense given the facility is proposed as market-rate.
“It would be a different matter if the proposal was directed to below market-rate units,” she said.
Lastly she said one parking space per every three residents was fairly standard in assisted living facilities, but that the Town should verify that with their own traffic consultant.
Alban said her key concern was the proposed FAR bonus being sought.
“I believe you could recover your investment through higher pricing,” she said.
Commissioner Nick Macri asked where there was an example of how the text amendment would relate to another large GB or GBO site in Town – one that is either undeveloped or ready for redevelopment.
Commissioner Dennis Yeskey said this type of project violates a lot of Greenwich’s zoning.
“If it was easy it would have been done by now,” he said. “I want to encourage you strongly to keep going on this project, but listen to all the comments.”
“When you propose new regulations, our experience has been that the applicant asks for the moon and the sky,” Yeskey said. “I don’t want to discourage you. I think you’re right on the objectives. I’m not sure you’re right on the incentives.”
Yeskey also pointed out the Ambassador in Scarsdale is adjacent to a park.
“It’s a tough site to build in. It’s not in a park. It’s next to the train tracks and a rock ledge,” Yeskey said.
He also asked whether the access is via a private road.
Ms DeLuca said the road is indeed privately owned by John Fareri and there are easements and access rights for property owners to traverse the road.
Commissioner Peter Lowe disagreed with Mr. Yeskey. “I don’t think it’s a tough site,” he said. “This could become a proverbial silk purse from a pig’s ear.”
Mr. Cohen said he would consider the feedback, but that if his client had to go back to the GB standards the project would not go forward.
“Incentives are required,” he said. “To go back to the underlying zone won’t work,” Cohen said.
Mr. Cohen quoted a passage from the American Planning Association discussion overlay zones that Ms. Alban said she had happened to have shared with the commission over the weekend:
Overlay zones have the potential to be very effective governmental regulatory tools. Since they tailor regulations to specific properties and districts to meet specific community goals, they can be more politically feasible to implement and can help communities meet stated goals or address specific inequities.
“I think an overlay zone is absolutely right for this,” he said, but Ms Alban still balked at the incentives sought.
“If you can find significant incentives being given within our state for market rate assisted living, it would be very interesting to see,” she said. “What does it say that the most expensive communities in Connecticut that have assisted living are not giving incentives, and Greenwich is? I would be failing the town.”
“Please, if you can, find great examples of high-end communities where this is occurring. I’d love to see the kinds of incentives that are being given, I’d like to see the best practices, not just to be told you can’t make it work unless we give it to you,” Alban said.
“We’ll come back with an application,” Cohen said.