Binney to Boccuzzi: RTM Okays Interim Funding for Multi-Use Trail Feasibility Study

There were several opinions shared at Monday night’s RTM meeting about a potential multi-use  trail connecting Binney Park in Old Greenwich to Boccuzzi Park in Stamford.

About 78% of the path would be in Greenwich and 23% in Stamford. It would be paved, but separate from the roadway.

Items 11 and 12 on the call included a request from the Dept of Public Works to approve $338,000 interim funding for a feasibility study (item 11) and allow for an agreement between Greenwich and CT DEEP to receive grant funding for the planning and design of the path (item 12).

A grant application successfully awarded up to $270,400 from CT DEEP which can cover up to 80% of the estimated $338,000 planning and design costs.

The remaining 20% ($67,600) would be split between Greenwich and Stamford.

Peter Berg

Peter Berg, chair of the Land Use committee gave a recap of his meeting where DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel was a guest, saying there were concerns the path had not been adequately shared with residents.

“Other concerns were raised about the need for eminent domain, the future shared cost of the path and the fact that residents of Old Greenwich had not been canvassed,” he said.

“Jim Michel responded that a feasibility study would answer most of these concerns and they would explore multiple ways to fund the project through outside funding sources.”

Land Use Committee voted 4 in favor, 3 opposed, 4 abstentions on item 11.

Brooks Harris, said his Finance committee learned from Mr. Michel that the funding was not included in the 15-year capital budget, the “CIP,” but he intended to include it at a future date.

He said Mr. Michel reminded the committee that most of the cost of the request was being shouldered by Hartford.

“Some members were concerned that the chosen endpoint of Boccuzzi Park may have too much crime, given that someone was murdered there earlier this year,” Mr. Harris said.

“Mr. Michel reminded us that the final path was subject to review and could be quite different. The ultimate end-point could potentially be a location that had no murders at all,” he added, to awkward laughter.

Harris said there were questions about whether the new sidewalks in Old Greenwich might need to be removed to make way for the path, or whether stone walls, bridges and other impediments might need to be removed in places where Sound Beach Ave was narrow, and whether eminent domain might come into play.

He said Mr. Michel’s reply had been that the path in the explanos (Sound Beach Ave and Shore Rd) was not necessarily the one that would be used, and that some of the funds could be used to pick an alternative path that did not require use of eminent domain.

Finance Committee voted against items 11 and 12 by a vote of 5-6-1.

Kate LoBalbo

Kate LoBalbo, from the Parks & Rec Committee said they had met jointly with the Transportation Committee and had concerns about “appropriate speeds” given the variety of bikes that would use the path.

They also asked for a traffic and accident study, including “near misses.” Other concerns were protecting tree growth and canopy.

LoBalbo said the rough estimate to implement the path was quoted to be around $4 million. “Members were concerned that this would compete with other capital needs as we embark on an ambitious capital plan for school construction,” she added.

The Parks & Rec vote on item 11 was 8 in favor, 4 against.

Anthony Moor

Anthony Moor from the Transportation Committee said the path was intended to help residents move around Old Greenwich more safely without cars, including, for example, for parents bringing their children to Old Greenwich School on a bike, not necessarily using it to travel back and forth to Stamford. On both items 11 and 12 the Transportation Committee voted 8-1-0 in favor.

Craig Amundson said some members of Public Works Committee recalled the Perrot Library roundabout project in Old Greenwich, a state project that residents strongly opposed.

(Municipal Improvement for Sound Beach Ave Bridge/Rotary Upgrade Fails to Carry at P&Z May 2018)

“If you’re going to do something that is going to impact a community like Old Greenwich, you ought to talk to them about it up front,” he said, adding that there was not awareness of the item until the end of August. He said his committee’s concerns included the size of the pathway as it goes across the end of residents’ yards in the town right of way.

Further he said, his committee had concerns that homeowners would be responsible for snow and ice removal on the path in front of their homes.

He said there had been discussion of inclusion of bike racks, benches, trash cans, lighting, self-service bike services/mechanic stations with tire pumps and other tools, as well as additional parking and trail heads at both Binney Park side and Boccuzzi Park in Stamford, so people could park and take their bikes for a ride.

Lastly, he said they’d talked about alternate routes including via Arch St, Brown House Rd, Forest Ave, Harding Rd, Lockwood Ave, Tomac Ave or Wesskum Wood Road, which has scenic road status.

Transportation Committee voted 5-5-0, which meant the motion failed to carry. Because item 11 failed, they did not take up item 12.

Lucia Jansen

Lucia Jansen, chair of the Budget Overview Committee, said her committee was concerned about the impact to the Capital Improvement Program, and how the path might potentially postpone other projects.

“As we heard, tonight is kind of the cart before the horse,” Jansen said.

She noted that while Mr. Michel had said the end points at Binney Park and Boccuzzi Park were “non-negotiable,” her committee agreed other end points and paths that might be better but were not part of the grant.

She noted that both the Board of Selectmen and Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) approved the grant.

However, she said, when BET heard community involvement had been limited, they conditioned a requirement that DPW hold a public hearing specifically for feedback on the Sound Beach Ave to Shore Road route.

Like others, she said her committee was concerned that stone walls, trees and Belgium block driveways would be in the way of the path, and eminent domain might be invoked.

“BOC members thought that for the DPW to spend time on this particular route was wasting time and money,” Jansen said.

The BOC vote on the interim appropriation failed:  3 in favor, 7 opposed.

Coline Jenkins

Coline Jenkins chair of district 6 brought a wrapped gift box to the podium and described the multi-use path as “an imposed gift.”

She shared many of the concerns already listed, and said the district 6 vote to support the feasibility: 12 yes, 1 no, 5 abstain.

Vin DiMarco

Vin DiMarco said questions and fears would all be addressed by the feasibility study.

“Technically we are only voting on $24,000,” he said. “That’s all that can be spent based on the BET’s condition, until there are public hearings.”

Aidan Fay

Aidan Fay, a junior at GCDS and member of the Earth Rise Club described the project as a crucial step toward climate action in Greenwich.

“The creation of a dedicated bike path in Greenwich is not merely a request for funding. It is a call to action in the face of the global climate crisis,” he said, adding that the path would be a tangible step to reducing the town’s carbon footprint.

“Imagine the impact of fewer cars on the road,” he said. “This project is an investment in educating our community about the importance of sustainable living.”

Janet Stone McGuigan spoke in favor of the feasibility study.

“Voting against this item goes directly against the town’s best interest, as such a vote would signal to Hartford that Greenwich does not want state money and make future grant opportunities much less likely.”

Anthony Moor said the feasibility study represented “the first dedicated dime” spent on ways to include bicycling as transportation in 20 years in Greenwich.

“The last time we did so it was to fund a bicycle master plan – a plan that was never adopted,” he said, adding that if that plan had been implemented it would have eliminated thousands of car trips monthly.

“Instead, I bet you have a bunch of bikes in your garage that haven’t gotten much use over the decades, unless you toss them in your SUV and take your kids to the park to ride,” Moor said.

He said that 20-year-old bicycle master plan had proposed a pilot project in Old Greenwich and included detailed lane striping and signage, and was estimated to cost under $20,000.

Bob DeAngelo

Bob DeAngelo said that in the 60s’ young people rode their bikes everywhere and enjoyed the freedom that imparted.

But he noted that increased traffic and distracted driving made bike riding truly dangerous today.

“Our town must play a role in planning and creating safe active transportation for all users,” he said, adding that the trail grant feasibility study would be a catalyst for other opportunities.

State Rep Rachel Khanna (D-149) recalled that in May, Governor  Ned Lamont announced a grant of $270,400 from the state’s recreational trails program for planning and design work on the 2-1/2 mile multi-use path.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont in Binney Park during a press conference to announce funding for a new multi-use trail to connect Binney Park in Old Greenwich to Boccuzzi Park in Stamford. May 22, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150), First Selectman Fred Camillo, Will Kies from Greenwich Land Trust, State Senator Ryan Fazio (R-36) and State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151) in Binney Park. May 22, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

(Governor Lamont Visits Binney Park to Announce Multi-Use Trail Grant to Connect Greenwich to Stamford May 22, 2023)

“Increasing opportunities for people to safely travel short distances without having to use a car is very important, but this is also about meeting our clean energy and zero carbon goals in a fun way,” Khanna said.

She noted that identifying the best path would be in consultation with the community.

State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151) also spoke in support, noting that after state reimbursement the cost for the feasibility study was just $24,400 after state reimbursement and the share paid for by Stamford.

“I think it is a good opportunity to show our state government and agencies that we in Greenwich can study and discuss these grants given to us.”

Ali Ghiorse said that the multi-use path had been recommended for funding by DEEP, despite a record 105 grant proposals for trail grants.

“This is about shifting mind set and culture. This is about connecting land and people and shared resources.”

Lucy von Brachel said she felt strongly about connecting towns and neighborhoods, particularly via bicycle.

She shared a story about how several years ago she lived in Manhattan and twice attempted to complete “The Great Saunter,” a 30-mile walk around the outside of Manhattan.

“The first time I did it we walked over the Amtrak rails illegally, did all sorts of horrifying things, ran across the FDR,” she said.

“The next time we did it, we explored neighborhoods we had never been to before, to get almost all the way around Manhattan by foot on the waterfront, which is really cool.”

“If you are frustrated by traffic, if you’re concerned about letting your kids walk to school, if you’re sick of not being able to find a parking space, this is one of the solutions that we have,” von Brachel said.

“Let’s explore our town, our neighborhoods and let’s explore Stamford.”

In the end the vote on combined items 11 and 12 for the Greenwich-Stamford multi-use trail was in favor: 107 yes, 71 no, and 8 abstentions.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the district 6 vote on the feasibility study: 12 yes, 1 no, 5 abstain.

Check out the breakdown of the votes for 11 and 12 from 203 Vote  here.