Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning commission meeting which starts at 4:00pm, features a controversial pre-application for a 220-unit 8-30g affordable housing development in Pemberwick at Comly Ave and Pemberwick Rd.
Last week, at a special meeting of RTM district 9, which includes Pemberwick and Glenville, and leaders of the Pemberwick-Glenville Association, residents had a chance to hear from the developer and ask him questions.
The meeting was well attended, with about 120 present in person and 30 more via Zoom or phone, and at times was unruly.
Residents, long familiar with the vicissitudes of the Byram River, including recent episodes of flooding. They are also impacted by commuter traffic moving to and from from New York via Comly Ave and through their neighborhoods to the Post Rd and I95.
When the pre-application was submitted to P&Z a few weeks ago, word of the proposal spread quickly and brought a sense of déja vu.
In 2018 an application to P&Z to convert office to 15 residential apartments was approved. It involved no new construction. But that conversion never took place.
At the time, the P&Z summary on file talked about a previous approval in 1987:
“The subject property was the subject of an approved rezoning, Site Plan and Special Permit (FSP #1234) in 1987. The 1987 approval permitted use of the existing buildings on the east side of the river as office, and development of the west side of the river for 21 unit residential development over 150,000 cubic feet in volume. The residential portion of the approval was never built and appears to have expired.”
More recently, the Cedar School was approved to move into an existing office building on the property, beginning with just 20-25 students in fall 2021, with the intention of growing to about 200 students.
The property is split across the Byram River on two parcels for a total of 5.566 acres.
One parcel is 2 acres with a two-story 50,000 sq office building and building originally a Russell, Burdsall and Ward Bolt & Nut factory dating to the 19th century. The second is a 3.6 acre parcel that features a parking lot.
The property is located in a Flood Zone and there is a dam up-river.
When the Cedar School ultimately received approval in 2021, there were extensive conversations about evacuating children during a flood.
P&Z director Patrick LaRow told the residents on Tuesday that, as proposed, the development was over height and square footage, and might be underparked. Of course with an application submitted under the state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g, just about all local zoning regulations are waived, with the exception of rare instances of health and safety. The affordable units are only required to stay affordable for 40 years, at which point they can become market rate.
Until 10% of any Connecticut town’s housing stock is affordable, it is subject to 8-30g.
Several small scale 8-30g projects have been approved and constructed in Greenwich, though some bigger ones have been withdrawn, including one on Church and Sherwood, one at 5 Brookridge near Greenwich High School and one at 1165 East Putnam Ave.
Thursday’s D9 meeting featured passionate concerns about the proposed development.
The owner of the property is Aldo Pascarella, who attended but did not speak.
He was represented by real estate developer Brent Carrier of CRE Development, who lives in Larchmont, but said he was familiar with Greenwich as his child attends Greenwich Academy.
“We view this property as a very special opportunity, and we’re glad people are here to understand how we’re looking to help Greenwich meet the stated requirements in a thoughtful way,” Carrier said.
The plan is to build a new multi-family apartment building over the parking lot, and go one level below grade to provide parking for two cars per apartment.
The building would have four stories closer to Comly Ave and six stories in the back. The west side of the river would have 175 apartments. On the east side, where a fitness center currently fronts the waterfall they would like to build a four story townhouse building on the existing footprint.
“For the office building, the plan is, as the leases burn off, we’ll convert the existing building to 30 apartments total – 15 in the office building and 15 in the fitness center – so we end up with 220 apartments and 440 parking spots,” Carrier said.
“We are listening to people’s concerns about the waterfall,” he said. “Historically that was used as a power source for the (Russell, Burdsall and Ward Bolt & Nut factory) 100 years ago. We would like to see if there is a way to incorporate hydro-power for charging electric vehicles on site for the residents.”
“We have an office building, and it doesn’t seem to be in the right place for office tenants. It just doesn’t fit well within the residential community. We think downsizing the parking requirement and the amount of traffic that would come out of an as-of-right office development actually benefits the community,” Carrier said. “We look forward to creating the residential environment there and improving the conservation land so people will be able to enjoy the open space in the back.”
“Currently we’re looking at 25%, or 55 of the apartments being affordable housing. It’s not low income housing – it’s 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). The base one-bedroom apartment will start at $2,600 per month,” Carrier said.
“Under the straight’s 8-30g state program for set aside those apartments would be at $1100 a month. So we’re not looking at a low income type of establishment,” Carrier continued. “What we’re trying to provide is workforce housing. The community has a deficit of housing for first responders, teachers, nurses who serve the community but can’t afford to live here.”
Carrier said there would be one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and no studio apartments.
“By working with the Affordable Housing Trust we’ve been able to reduce the size of the building. The original proposal was for 545,000 sq ft. We’ve been able to reduce that to 313,000 sq ft for 220 units because we don’t have to make up so much revenue to supplement the apartments.”
Residents asked Mr. Carrier about his business background including a newspaper report about a bankruptcy and an incident involving a Russian woman.
“I filed for a corporation – it’s an entity that’s in a partnership – the partnership I owned 30% of for some buildings in Long Island City, NY, that was going to be the HQ2 for Amazon. My partner’s manager elected to try to proceed with giving the property away to another entity that they own offshore. I filed bankruptcy of my entity to try to stop that transaction.”
“They said I was insolvent,” he continued, adding that was not the case.
In the situation, Carrier explained, “The office/warehouse building I bought and two years later brought in a Russian oligarch, unbeknownst to me, as my partner, hired a Russian honey-pot to try to destroy my credibility. That woman has admitted under testimony that we did not have a relationship and that she was being paid by them. Her lawsuit has been dismissed.”
“I have a 40-year history of doing very good things. I have one experience with what was sold to me as a London-based hedge fund, Cube Capital, which was derivative trading that went into real estate. I was not aware that the funds were actually Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was in a Siberian prison camp,” he added. “They had passed the smell test and they had all the licenses for derivative trading.”
(More on Mr. Khodorkovsky here.)
Contamination, Flooding, Traffic
Carrier said there was some “solvents found in the ground” at the corner of Comly and Pemberwick that would be remediated in a safe responsible manner and testing information shared.
He added that there is contamination under the old bolt factory as well, but to remediate would require demolition of the building. “So instead we’re going with a plan to remediate through aeration of the soil and carbon filter.”
As for flooding, Carrier said he was aware of two floods in the past 10 years, and that one was caused by a compromised drain in the parking lot.
Carrier acknowledged that the flood last year featured water washing over the bridge.
“There was about six inches of water in the south building,” he said.
Asked about downstream impacts, Carrier said he anticipated no negative impacts.
“We do not anticipate changing any of the river flow, and are looking to accommodate some of the rain water for irrigation,” he added.
There was a round of applause when someone asked about traffic in the neighborhood and the safety of the many children, especially considering there are no sidewalks on many of the neighborhood roads.
“There’s not 440 cars all be leaving for work and coming back at 5:00pm,” he said, assuring residents a traffic study.
Tuesday’s meeting will be exclusively via Zoom, with the commissioners Zooming in as well.
Some D9 meeting participants were upset to learn the meeting would not be in person.
Patrick LaRow said town hall will accommodate those without Zoom capability and people can contact Demetria Nelson of Human Services to arrange access via a computer at town hall on Tuesday.
Afterward, P&Z commission Chair Margarita Alban explained in an email the benefits of Zoom.
“Our highest priority (or one of top) is to engage residents in the land use process. Prior to going on Zoom, we often had no public attendance at hearings. Since then, we average nearly 100 people, rarely seeing less than 50 and sometimes having as many as 250,” Alban said. “We’ve found being on Zoom specifically enables attendance by those for whom it is difficult to leave home in the evenings: parents of young children, those with other care taking responsibilities, the home bound, those concerned about bad weather or night driving etc.”
State law, does require that, on request, a public meeting being held on zoom must be made available in Town Hall for those who don’t have computers or who have difficulty with Zoom.
LaRow assured residents that a pre-application was non-binding and was intended to give early guidance to developers before they invest heavily in experts on traffic, landscaping, drainage, etc.
Residents will be allowed to comment via Zoom on Tuesday. Typically residents are given three minutes to testify.
This story was updated with the correct name of the historic factory. It was the Russell, Burdsall and Ward Bolt & Nut factory.
This story was updated to change the spelling of Michael Korikofsky to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Also a second link was added to include a second perspective on Mr. Khodorkovsky