The Byram Neighborhood Association met on Monday night via Zoom.
BNA chair Joe Kantorski said crosswalks around New Lebanon School had been made more visible with new striping and stop signs, and there had been enhanced speed limit enforcement. He said more trees had been planted on Mill St and Water Streets, and that the pocket park on Mill St had been substantially upgraded.
That was the good news.
The meeting focused primarily on concerns about ever increasing noise pollution from I95 and the effort to encourage the CT Dept of Transportation to include noise abatement in the upcoming 53-316 project.
The DOT has repeatedly said the project is limited to resurfacing, bridge rehabilitation and safety improvements from exit 2 Byram to exit 6 in Stamford.
State Rep Steve Meskers whose district covers the shoreline from Byram to Old Greenwich, said the $200 million project ($190 million in federal funding; $10 million State of CT funding) will start in a year and last about 4-1/2 years.
He said he’d been working with the Stop I95 Noise group and the Riverside Association.
“We’ve got to effect change on the project. It’s at about 30% design,” he said. “We want it at 100% design, inclusive of quiet pavement technology, quiet joints and inclusion of sound barriers both for pollution control and restoration of vegetation.”
He said the Greenwich Tree Conservancy was applying for an urban forestry grant for Byram and some of Pemberwick to add trees and vegetation, but the onus is on local groups like Stop I95 Noise, the Riverside Association and the BNA to advocate for noise mitigation.
Meskers said a resident had invited him to tour an area under I95 where its joints were banging loudly. He said that while the joints were replaced it was “absurd” that the joints are not permanently quiet.
Meskers expressed concern that the if quiet pavement, quiet joints, sound barriers and restoration of vegetation are not included in the I95 project at the start that of the project, remediation after the fact would be more difficult.
“I did get a call from the CT DOT who asked me not to do any more videos,” Meskers said. “It means if we’re not drawing blood, at least annoying them.”
He said he’d learned from staff in the Governor’s office that remediation would cost about $5-10 million, which he hoped could be funded by the infrastructure bill.
The video features a response to a letter from Greg Piccinino of Stop I95 Noise that says, there is “no funding mechanism in place for a Type II noise abatement program in Connecticut.”
The letter said the state had a noise abatement program from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but it had been eliminated due to elimination of funding.
Resident Caroline Schaefer said noise from I95 had worsened since completion of the upgrades to I95 in Port Chester, NY, known as “The Last Mile.”
She while she liked the lighter color pavement and elimination of bumps at the seems between sections of pavement, noise now redirects from Port Chester to Byram.
Meskers said that while he was advocating for quiet pavement, quiet joints, sound barriers and vegetation, “It’s pulling teeth. Do not expect they’re going to put a Berlin wall from Port Chester to Stamford.”
“We’ve gotten their attention. Now we have to get them to deliver the goods,” he added.
Coordinating Traffic Signals at Juncture of Port Chester and Byram
Clare Kilgallen asked whether CT and NY Depts of Transportation could coordinate traffic lights and walk signals at the state line in the area of Mill St and Water Street, given hundreds of new apartments in the works at the former Tarry Lodge.
In Byram, when a pedestrian presses the walk signal, traffic stops from both directions, but in Port Chester the walk lights are one direction only.
“Crossing Abendroth, it’s only Abendroth that stops. You have to look over your shoulder and make sure nobody is coming from Mill Street to run you down,” said Al Shehadi, chair of the BNA land use committee. “I think everyone would be in favor of improving the timing if lights.”
Kilgallen said ideally crossing signals at Abendroth Mill and Main Street and Mill would be “bi-directional.”
Meskers said ideally, the bottleneck in the area of Water Streets, Abendroth and Main Street/Rte 1 in Port Chester, would be addressed by a conversation between Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and the Mayor of Port Chester, Luis Marino.
Paul Pugliese said the existing traffic light at the intersection of Mill St and North and South Water Streets is optimized for Byram so drivers can make a left turn onto South Water Street.
“Unless they change the timing of that, it can’t get any better for Byram without having turn lanes. If we compromise, it will get worse.”
Pugliesi said residents met with traffic engineers a few years ago to say Byram residents did not want that light changed because it would have favored Port Chester and allowed more traffic coming in from the other side of the bridge.
HASCO Electric Redevelopment (pre-application is on Nov 9 P&Z meeting agenda starts at 5:00pm via Zoom)
Meskers acknowledged that while the pre-application to redevelop the vacant HASCO Electric facility was uner the purview of the P&Z commission, he’d like to see a new use of the site suit the neighborhood.
“I’d love a pier or floating dock to tie up with the pocket park to allow for kayaking, canoeing and access to the waterfront for the benefit to the community,” he said.
Later in the meeting, First Selectman Fred Camillo said, “Docks should be part of the discussion.”
Paul Pugliese said the Byram Comprehensive Plan should be consulted.
“Water front access is supposed to be continuous along the entire waterfront in Byram,” Pugliese said. “Previous HASCO proposals included a continuation of the walkway. I don’t think any proposal would succeed without that.”
“The town decided when they did the pocket park down by Interstate (Lumber) that they weren’t interested in maintaining a waterfront dock, which was also part of the comprehensive plan.”
“We fought for it but were over ridden by Parks & Rec, which is quite unfortunate because that’s a great spot for launching kayaks and going up and down the Byram River.”
Pugliese noted the proposal was for a “less nonconforming use” than the previous one, but the community could make the argument that “a ghost type of use” at 84 South Water Street added nothing to the community.
“Nobody is going to want to walk behind a storage warehouse. They wouldn’t feel safe back there,” Pugliese said. “Once the project is presented, we should reserve judgement, but be prepared to look at it carefully and make sure we’re not doing what Port Chester did and selling out to a development that doesn’t compliment what the comprehensive plan is trying to achieve.”
Al Shehadi said Byram’s goal was to increase walkability and have more connections between street front uses and sidewalks.
“Essentially (per the pre-application) it will be a dead zone with no interaction between the facility and surrounding areas,” he said.
Pugliese said the HASCO redevelopment is a once in a life time opportunity.
“It should have some community input,” he said. “With sea level rise and elevation of that property it may be more appropriate to leave it open recreation based with some other uses, rather than the type of coverage that may be proposed.
The pre-application for the former HASCO facility at 84 South Water Street is item 2 on the Tuesday, Nov 9 P&Z agenda. The meeting starts at 5:00pm and residents can testify via Zoom.
First Selectman’s Bicycle Task Force
Ernst Schirmer said members of the bicycle task force created by First Selectman Camillo had visited Byram with the idea of creating a bike lane to connect New Lebanon School to Byram Park via James Street East and Byram Shore Road, though it may not be possible for a bike lane on Mead Ave.
Schirmer said James Street East offered safe access over I95.
He said the task force hoped the BNA would advocate for the bike lanes.
The task force suggested improving signage around New Lebanon School to clarify what kind of bicycle activities are allowed, fixing the broken bike rack there and installing bike racks at Western Middle School
Lastly, the task force hoped the BNA would identify measures to increase bike and pedestrians safety in the area of Mead Ave, where there have been traffic accidents.
Schirmer said the bike task force will make a presentation in the town hall meeting room on Nov 18 at 6:45pm.
“If these ideas appeal, we need voices from Byram to support them.”
He said he’d like the task force to add a member to represent Byram.
“We really want to link some of the gems in Byram, not just for safety,” said Bob DeAngelo from the task force and Pedal Greenwich.
“The town did a great job with the Byram Park and pool, the Shubert Library, the ballfield and the surrounding area. Kids safety is high on our list and we’d like to get into the school to do some bike clinics and some bike rodeos.”
Schirmer said it was sad that only about 5% of the 260 students at New Lebanon School and 5% of the 558 students at WMS ride bikes to school.
BNA secretary Lucy von Brachel said that during the pandemic, more middle schoolers started riding bikes.
“They’re not the safest bunch. People should keep their eyes out for them,” she said. “We need to protect them and educate them.”
Al Shehadi said Port Chester had done a better job than Byram at providing bike racks. He said there were new bike racks along Main Street and at the train station.
While there are bike racks on the William Street field and at New Lebanon School, there is an absence of racks on Delavan Ave.
“Hats off to the bike task force,” said First Selectman Fred Camillo.
He said it was important that the task force combat the image of Byram as a cut through to Port Chester.
While he noted that Greenwich had the issue of narrow roads, “Wherever we can have pedestrian friendly bike paths is important.”
Camillo said he’d like to see bicycle police officers assigned permanently to Byram and Old Greenwich, in addition to the four stationed in downtown Greenwich.
New Hamill Rink
Kantorski said the BNA had maintained an active presence on the rink user committee who are planning the Dorothy Hamil skating rink replacement, with an emphasis on respecting the memorial grove for veterans.
Liz Eckert, who is on boththe BNA board and the rink user committee, said there had been much controversy about locating a replacement rink in a different location.
She said she was an advocate for the rink remaining in its existing location while possibly extending its footprint.
Camillo said plans all along were to protect the ball field, rink and memorial grove.
“The town has been waiting a long time for a new skating rink,” he added. “We want to get that done. We want to make sure the veterans park is not only preserved, but enhanced…maybe with a brick wall.”
“Also protecting and preserving the baseball field named in memory of our friend, Byram boy Sal Strazza. I’ve asked the rink committee keep an option open for keeping it where it is.”
Camillo said Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano will talk about a dedication of the veterans memorial grove during the Nov 23 Board of Selectmen meeting.
He mentioned “Hamill Rink at Morlot Park” and “Strazza Field at Morlot Park” and possibly a similar name being created for the memorial grove area.
Camillo said Richard Fulton has a contact at the NHL who will share ideas for reconstructing the rink on its existing site, expanding it and making it state-of-the-art.
Kantorski reminded Camillo that “from the get-go, the BNA advocated that the rink stay where it is.”