John Tesei, attorney representing the developers of 88 South Water Street parted with the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) several weeks ago with the remark, ‘See you in court.’
That has not happened.
In fact, he said on Tuesday night he was optimistic the dilemma could be worked out with the commission. Tesei’s client, Rod O’Connor, sought to develop the site with a single building with 26 smaller units than the 3-bedroom luxury townhouse units that sat empty for many years after the previous developer went bankrupt.
At issue is whether the applicant even has the right to complete the project. Back in 2005 the residential project was approved for the “nonconforming use” in the Waterfront Business (WB) zone through a legal settlement. Since this was a settlement, the court system retains jurisdiction.
But, because in 2008, the P&Z commission approved an amendment, the question now becomes whether that restarted the clock on the extension.
Another complication muddying the waters is that since the time this project started and stalled, a State statute has changed, allowing for an automatic nine-year extension to a project, which would bring its deadline to 2017.
The commissioners themselves were not entirely in agreement.
“Your site plan expired in 2014. That’s the basic difficulty,” Mrs. Ramer said.
“I don’t think there’s any question the commission and the applicant can modify that agreement,” attorney Tesei said.
“If you don’t even want to look at this because you don’t believe we have these rights, then we have to take it to court,” Tesei said. “We’re here because we’d like to complete the redevelopment of this property and my client is flexible and realistic.”
Tesei insisted the commission had the jurisdiction to grant extensions.
While the issue of the timeline and extension remained unresolved, there were remarks from the public.
Frank Mazza, chair of the Harbor Management Commission, who are still working on a harbor management plan, spoke against the residential development. “One of the things we’re putting in our plan is maintaining the WB zone,” Mazza said. “This the only WB zone we have left in the town of Greenwich. We can’t make any more. Your plan recognizes that and says the WB zone shouldn’t have any residential in it.”
“This increases the density of residential units in a WB zone,” Mazza said. “You shouldn’t do that. We have to protect what we have in this area.”
Another familiar face was Matthew Popp, a landscape architect who lives in Byram.
“I support the residential,” Popp said, adding that three or four times a week he walks his dogs down to the water via the public access and boardwalk that were completed before the previous applicant went bankrupt. “I look over the river at the gulls and fish and water. It’s nice that the lights are on. It would be nice to have sidewalks along the entire length of South Water Street,” Popp said.
Peter Quigley, who is also on the harbor management commission, didn’t object to residential development in the WB zone per se. He acknowledged that the Byram neighborhood plan does show the property as residential, but he warned that the area is “very sensitive.”
Quigley pointed out that if the parcel hadn’t been approved for condominiums, it might just as easily have been purchased for marine use.
“You have a structure that has to be dealt with,” he said, referring to the row of unsold stone and shingle condos. “You’re not going to destroy something with some value,” he said, adding that condominiums are not a water dependent use by definition.
“There is a fair amount of contamination that flows down there,” he said. “This is a sensitive area of flooding. You have to be careful of what you approve. That river can be highly traveled.”
Mr. Tesei pointed out that no one from the neighborhood had come to oppose the application. “I think people can’t wait to see the site cleaned up,” he said. “I’d like you to put the issue to bed.”
Rod O’Connor introduced himself as the owner of the property. “I appreciate the chit chat about the project,” he said. ” When we first sat down with Katie (Katie DeLuca, director of Planning & Zoning), we talked about a project more inclusive to the community,” he said. “The project caused two banks to lose a lot of money. It did not work because of the type of product,” he added, referring to the three-bedroom luxury condos that failed to sell. He said his idea is to complete the development with much smaller units, and include six affordable units for a total of 26 units in one building.
“We looked at units we thought the size of which would appeal to a broader audience. We then realized we had additional FAR. We thought, great we’ll add six affordable units,” O’Connor said adding that if the density was an issue to the commission, he’d be happy to remove them from the application. “We were trying to give the community something we thought was beneficial. ”
“We spent a year cleaning up the site. We took hundreds of loads of contaminated material and dumped them in another state, not to be named, under DEEP standards with two environmental engineers overseeing it. We wanted to clean it up first and figure up what to build second,” Mr. O’Connor, owner of 88 South Water Street
Mr. O’Connor said that the six unsold condos now have some renters living in them.”We want to move it from an eyesore to something beautiful,” he said, adding that the empty former Hasco factory, which he said has a hole in its ceiling and many issues, will eventually be torn down and developed.
“Every property is for sale. Everyone has a price on their property. All eyes are on the success of our property, and whether people will take the risk.” – Rod O’Connor, owner, 88 South Water Street
O’Connor said many eyes are on his project as a barometer of what might get approved in the area.
With the substantive issue of the applicant’s right to develop the property unresolved, the commission invited the applicant to present the proposal for the site. Mr. Ridberg, the architect, presented a rendering of a single 3-story building with 26 units.
There was discussion back and forth between Mr. O’Connor’s architect and attorney and the P&Z commissioners of how the bulk of a single building would impact the streetscape and “view corridors.”
Commissioner Nick Macri pointed out that with the Port Chester side of the river having been developed, the traffic back and forth over the Mill Street bridge from Port Chester through Bryam had increased tremendously. He said there should be consideration about how development on the Connecticut side of the river would add to traffic.
Commissioner Richard Maitland said his understanding was that DEEP accepted the docks and boardwalk as satisfying the site’s waterfront use. And, although the additional six affordable units bringing the total number of units to 26, was “a laudable goal,” he didn’t think there was support for that amount of residential density in either the Byram Neighborhood Plan or the POCD. Several commissioners described the proposed building as too bulky.
Mr. Heller pointed out that the Byram neighborhood plan is commercially oriented. “However,” he said, “The Byram plan was from 2006, and updated in 2011. Clearly what you have here is a commercial area that has had no commercial development in many years.” Mr. Heller said that to commercially develop the area wold be “a disaster.”
Mr. Heller, the chair of the commission who is set to retire on March 1, suggested that if a vote were taken among residents of Byram, his guess is that they would support residential development as a “feasible” alternative to commercial development.
“I urge the commission to consider a regulation change on the waterfront,” Mr. Heller said.
At the end of the discussion, the planning and zoning commission declined to vote on preliminary site plan. They decided to leave the application open. The applicant was asked to return to P&Z with a new design with a bigger “view corridor” of the water, less bulk and more light and air.