On Thursday the Board of Selectmen voted on Phase 1 of the closure of Greenwich Ave to vehicular traffic in an effort to bolster restaurants which were limited to takeout during the Covid-19 quarantine and are only allowed to serve outdoors during the first phase of Reopen CT which began May 20.
Specifically the Selectmen voted to close the bottom two blocks of Greenwich Avenue, creating an open air pedestrian mall with the exception of a 20 ft lane for access to emergency vehicles. The closure runs from Havemeyer to Railroad Avenue.
There are 17 restaurants in this stretch.
At Jill Oberlander’s suggestion the vote on phase 1 included the addition of 5 “nodes,” which can be placed anywhere on the Avenue north of Havemeyer.
A node is an enclosure created with jersey barriers to allow additional outdoor use on the upper segments of the Avenue.
The plan is to begin Phase 1 on Tuesday June 2, allowing Friday May 29 and Monday June 1 for set up and time to sweep the street, install signage and barricades, plus communicate with the businesses.
The closure will be in effect until September 2.
The bottom two blocks will be closed to vehicular traffic with the exception of trash pick up, commercial deliveries of supplies, and emergency vehicles.
Handicapped parking will be on side streets.
Grigg Street will switch from a one way street leading off the Ave to a dead end.
First Selectman Fred Camillo thanked all the Departments that were involved in planning including Planning & Zoning, Greenwich Police, Greenwich Fire Dept, Dept of Public Works and the Fire Marshal.
“There were lots of exciting ideas both for the bottom and the top of the Avenue, but we’re doing the crawl before the walk and focus on the bottom,” Camillo said.
There are 27 restaurants on the Avenue. As mentioned, 17 are on the two blocks being closed for phase 1. There are 9 restaurants between Putnam Ave and Lewis St. There is one restaurant between Lewis Street and Havemeyer Place, which is Douro at 253 Greenwich Ave.
Camillo said planning would begin immediately on phase 2 and 3 which impact the 9 restaurants on the upper portions of the Avenue.
Town Administrator Ben Branyan said the goal is to present plans for phase 2 and 3 at the next Selectmen meeting, which is on June 11. He noted Greenwich Ave is .65 miles. The section being closed for phase 1 is 1/4 mile long.
Camillo said the town decided to close the bottom two blocks of Greenwich Ave first intentionally.
“There are more complications as you go up the Ave and there is more variety of use,” he said.
Camillo also said the director of the Chamber of Commerce, Marcia O’Kane had corresponded with merchants whose response has been “very positive.”
“There will be lots of parking spaces,” Camillo said, adding that in future it might be possible to implement a trolley system like the one at Harbor Point in Stamford shuttling people from town hall past the waterfront to the Avenue.
“There are so many things we could add on in the future to make it an attractive destination,” he said. “For now the main thing is to get this up and running.”
“P&Z was terrific,” Camillo added. “Katie (Katie DeLuca, director of P&Z) and Margarita (Margarita Alban, chair of the P&Z commission) – with their input, advocacy and enthusiasm. They’ve been there from the beginning.”
Ms. Oberlander asked if one of the five nodes could be designated to enclose space outside restaurant, Douro which is located at 253 Greenwich Ave.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said other restaurant owners might also have an urgent need to expand their outdoor dining. She suggested the town departments decide how to prioritize the five nodes.
“We’ve heard from two other restaurants that are struggling to keep their doors open. I’d suggest you let the Chiefs and DPW weigh in on how to allocate those five nodes,” she added. “I’d hate to hear what the other restaurants say when they hear you picked Douro and not them.”
Alban noted P&Z has to sign off on the permits.
Reached for comment later, she praised Fred Camillo’s vision to support businesses while doing something ‘transformative’ for Greenwich.
“The teamwork behind this initiative was also impressive,” she added. “Amy Siebert nailed it when she referred to it as ‘all hands on deck.'”