P&Z Watch: Rezone Proposed for Single Family House to Retail in Village of Old Greenwich

Tuesday night’s Planning & Zoning meeting was a rare short one, but not to worry, dear land use obsessed readers, as there are two more P&Z meetings this month.

Three items were postponed, including The Mill Owners Company proposing residential development at 6 and 10 Glenville Street / 328, 334 & 340 Pemberwick Road. Also 103 Mason Street, LLC, a proposal for a seven unit building, was also postponed.

There was an interesting pre-application during the one hour meeting for a proposed business with art classes, private events, camps and and parties at 257 Sound Beach Ave.

Today this is a single family house on a .1248 acre flag lot behind the commercial building at 263 Sound Beach Ave.

The applicant seeks a change of use from single-family residential to a retail art studio/school with classes, private events, camps, and parties with a request to waive the parking requirements.

After ownership of the property at 257 Sound Beach Ave passed from Beth Campbell to her son, who in turn sold the house, it was sol from the Estate of Jane S Campbell on April 4, 2023 to David Hahn, who paid $1,150,000.

Rachel Orsi from SE Minor & Co said the proposed tenant was “The Big Picture,” which is currently located in Riverside.

Orsi described the business as an art studio and art supply store that offers art classes during the day for a range of ages from children up to adults.

A driveway leads to the parking lot for the commercial building, but there is an easement for the residential house at 257.

The applicant proposes drop off and pick up via that driveway.

257 Sound Beach Ave is a residential house on a flag lot behind a commercial building at 263 Sound Beach Ave. Photo: Assessor’s office

The Big Picture employees would be assigned two parking spaces where previously there was a garage.

A second garage Orsi described as “dated,” with a pull-down door was better suited to storage rather than for parking for customers.

Orsi said after drop-off, vehicles would exit via the parking lot behind the building (which includes both municipal parking and parking for CVS customers).

She said The Big Picture was “retail at its heart,” and would be similar to Make Modern in Cos Cob in terms of its business plan.

“We would encourage folks to either walk – Old Greenwich, we’re trying to push walking and biking,” Orsi said, adding that the first floor would feature products for sale and studio space for classes or, if there is no class in session, a retail customer could stay and do the craft kit they purchase.

“There are various parking options around – we really encourage either walking – nearby is Old Greenwich School – or biking,” Orsi added.

Commissioner Nick Macri said the driveway appeared to be obstructed by benches.

Ms Orsi said historically the tenants in the house at 257 accessed the property from the rear parking lot, and possibly the commercial businesses might be unaware of the access easement.

“It wasn’t clear to us that what you were proposing was retail use. It sounds more like it could be a school use since you were talking about camps and classes,” said commission chair Margarita Alban.

“If you were proposing camps and classes you would have different parking requirements. In your application, we would be looking that you be providing safe access and drop off for the children you are hoping would walk,” Alban added. “But mostly – if we know Greenwich – (children) would be driven, so someone has to park and walk them into the building.”

Alban said the applicant would need to create a plan for traffic circulation, drop-off and pick up, as well as adequate parking for a school.

“We know Kaia (Yoga Center) has been creating some difficulty parking during their classes. That’s the feedback we’re getting from the Old Greenwich Association and Merchants group,” Alban said.

Mr. LaRow said the commission had decided that Make Modern was a school use and spent considerable time working with them to determine where parents would park while they walked their child into their business.

“We have denied these uses in the past when we weren’t comfortable there was adequate safety for the kids during pick up and drop off,” Alban said.

Mr. Macri said his concern was that the driveway easement was narrow and the site appeared to be in a flood zone.

“You may want to double check that any issues in the old building going from residential to commercial are addressed – accessibility, flood-proofing and so forth – that may be a hindrance,” Macri said.

Ms Alban said the reason Make Modern had been determined to be a school use was that retail was secondary to the educational and party uses.

“We need convincing you can make this work,” Alban said, adding, “Every time we approve something and it does not work, it’s painful for us. Right now I’m hearing from Old Greenwich.”

Alban said future questions would be about changes to the building, including fire egress.

Mr. LaRow said it would be helpful to look at the language of the shared easement.

Kristen Addeo, owner of The Big Picture, testified to say she agreed with the points made, and would work with the commission.

Alban said driving patterns, especially post-Covid, were scary. “Driving has changed a lot and the safety of children is at risk – we worry a lot about safety.”

Elisabeth Miranowski testified in support of the business.

“It’s great to have something for the kids. It’s walking and biking distance for many of them that is not just retail,” she said. “It’s also great for parents. I can drop kids off at The Big Picture and go shop or have lunch.”

“But you have to park and walk them in,” Alban said.

Miranowski said her children enjoyed going to The Big Picture in Riverside. “But it’s in an odd area and there’s nothing there for me.”

The applicant was encouraged to return and continue the pre-application discussion, rather than to pay a team of experts unnecessarily.


(In May 2023, 263 Sound Beach Ave sold from the Estate of Jane S Campbell to 263SBA LLC for $1,800,000, and many will remember that decades long tenant The Haircut Place closed not long after.)