P&Z Watch: 171 Ham Ave 8-30g Proposal Gets Its First Round of Feedback

On Tuesday night a pre-application for a mixed use development in Chickahominy at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and View Street got some feedback from the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Rendering of proposed mixed use building presented during pre-application to P&Z on March 2, 2021

Proposed is a new 4 story building with retail proposed for the ground level, plus 3 levels of apartments, totaling 6 units, 2 of which would be affordable under provisions of 8-30g.

Currently there is a two family house and a separate barber shop that has been vacant for several years.

Greenwich is subject to the state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g until it achieves a goal of 10% of its overall housing stock “affordable.”

Greenwich has 1,371 units, which is 5.3% out of the 10% required.

Because 8-30g developments are exempt from local zoning regs, the proposal is for a FAR of 1.41, where .5 is underlying FAR in the LBR-2 zone.

The underlying maximum height is 2-1/2 stories and the proposal is for 4.

The minimum front setback is 10 ft, and the proposal is for 5. And though the existing dwelling has zero setback, but it was noted that the existing building is much smaller.

Attorney Bruce Cohen shared photos of nearby multi family buildings including one at 35 Old Field Point Rd.

The proposal includes 11 parking spaces, which would have shared use between the residential and retail use.

Applicant Joe Pecora noted that numerous properties in the vicinity extend all the way to the property line.

Attorney Bruce Cohen described 171 Hamilton Ave as a “very acceptable location,” because it is on a bus line, close to shopping, Hamilton Ave School and St Roch Church.

It also has town water and sewer, though P&Z director Katie DeLuca said the Sewer Dept might be the applicant’s biggest hurdle.

Attorney Bruce Cohen shared photos of nearby multi family buildings including one at 56 Old Field Point Rd at the corner of Spring Street.

As for the retail element of the proposal, the commission said it might help the neighborhood achieve more of a village feel.

That said, retail trends, especially during the pandemic, are not favorable, and the applicant said he might instead use the space for additional residential use.

Ms Alban said none of the commissioners objected to the retail use, and that the 8-30g statute doesn’t talk about retail.

The discussion focused on the building’s proposed modern design and lack of setbacks.

“I like modern, but this is Chickahominy,” said commissioner Dennis Yeskey. “Did you chose this style because you feel this is a transitional neighborhood?”

“What I’m trying to do is build a building that will bring us to the next stage of society,” Mr. Pecora replied. “It seems most younger people want to live in more modern buildings. The façade we chose is just a façade – it’s just our thoughts. It could be changed to be whatever you want it to be as long as the box stays the way it is.”

“I don’t think this neighborhood is going to stay the way it is,” Pecora added. “Look at every new building being built and it’s a modern look.”

Commissioner Peter Levy described the design as “fussy.”

“I’d suggest the design be quieted down and look toward other beautiful modern sleek buildings that are relatively small like this one and how simple and straightforward they can be without the color dodging that is going on here. It would blend in more.”

Commissioner Dave Hardman agreed with Mr. Yeskey that the modern architecture was consistent with similar neighborhoods around the country.

“My issue is lack of setbacks,” he said. “I think that while the need for density is probably important, I don’t think the neighborhood benefits from something that comes straight out to the sidewalk. I know the existing one does, but it’s quite small. I’d prefer something more set back.”

Ms Alban said it the applicant were to push the building back he might request a fifth story.

“Mr. Pecora is well versed in his rights under 8-30g,” she said.

While only three residents spoke out with concerns about the development, P&Z chair Alban noted there were 55 people attending on Zoom, which she said pre-pandemic hadn’t happened since townspeople turned out to support Sam Bridge Nursery.

Walter Rojowsky, who is on the Land Use committee of the Byram Neighborhood Association, described the proposal at 171 Ham Ave as “out of scope.”

“We wanted to voice our general concern regarding 8-30g applications that pursue larger scale developments that might otherwise be allowed, considering local zoning rules,” he said. “It could be interpreted as an example of how developments pursued through 8-30g aren’t necessarily helping to reduce exclusionary zoning, and perhaps even concentrating more affordable housing in our already dense and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods.”

Berrin Snyder said she didn’t think the design fit Chickahominy, though there is a development with a very similar look going up at 35 Old Field Point Rd at the corner of Spring Street.

“I hate to see Chickahominy disappear and go ultra modern,” Ms Snyder said. “It looks great in Denver or California. I don’t think it looks right in Chickahominy. …If I lived there in one of those cute little houses I’d be really unhappy. It’s out of place.”

Vin DiMarco said he grew up in Chickahominy and did not care for the design either.

After acknowledging the negative outpouring on Facebook last week, Mr. DiMarco said the modern design would fit better on West Putnam Ave.

On Facebook comments included, “hideous,” “atrocious,” “Minecraft,” and “have seen better designs from a three year old with Legos.”

“The Pecoras did a good job on architecture with the two 8-30g’s they’ve just done, (303 Hamilton Ave and 176 Hamilton Ave,” DiMarco added. “I think there’s an awful lot of people who feel the same way.”

Though some of the commissioners said they liked the modern design, Mr. Pecora said he’d seen the comments on Facebook.

“I had to take medication when I was reading it,” he said.

After public comment, Ms Alban told Mr. Pecora, “I’d say to you, if what makes the neighborhood comfortable may be the most important thing you can do here. It’s what the neighborhood is accepting of and what they think is positive for Byram-Chickahominy.”

The applicant will return to P&Z at a future meeting.