On Tuesday Greenwich Country Day School returned before the Planning & Zoning commission with a revised proposal to upgrade their lower school athletic fields at 47 Fairfield Rd, which is at the end the dead end at Cardinal Rd.
Now that GCDS extended their grades through 12th and acquired the former Stanwich School for their high school campus, they seek to establish a top tier varsity athletic program.
Currently, at the high school campus at 257 Stanwich Rd there isn’t enough room for a full size multi-use field.
Back in January, GCDS went before P&Z with a much larger proposal. They had sought to upgrade two grass playing fields to synthetic turf, and construct a field house with boys and girls locker rooms, visiting team locker rooms, training room and toilets underneath spectator seating for 478, plus portable bleachers that seat 200 and public toilet rooms on one side of building.
Neighbors objected based on the traffic they anticipated would exacerbate an already heavily trafficked area.
The commission was also concerned about the traffic impact on the neighborhood and nearby intersections, especially in the event tournaments. They also balked at the idea of the shuttling of students back and forth from the high school to the lower school fields.
In January commission chair Margarita Alban said, “I had wanted to see more of the high school sports activities contained on the high school campus.”
Her parting words were, “Migrate more toward Stanwich, that’s really what we’re looking for.”
On Tuesday, responding to the commission’s request that the school not lock into a permanent stadium and upgrades until questions about traffic were settled, the school proposed a “soft opening” with temporary bleachers to seat 200.
Attorney Bruce Cohen said GCDS still didn’t have enough room at their high school campus on Stanwich Rd to create a full size multi-use turf field.
The soft opening would allow GCDS to provide annual reporting to the town for three years to manage the impact on the neighborhood.
The numerous modifications since the last P&Z meeting included:
Gone is the field house, locker rooms, team rooms, toilet facilities and seating atop the building.
Temporary bleachers do not require permanent bathrooms to meet code.
Toilet facilities are already available by the baseball field, and the school said they would rent port-o-potties.
The temporary bleachers would be fabricated from aluminum and sit on stone dust that can be removed. The plan includes scoreboards which the applicant described as “standard and modest,” and a sound system that would broadcast toward the field and not toward the neighbors.
They also eliminated a paved parking area, reduced the width of road and eliminated as many sidewalks as possible – particularly the ones that impact neighbors who live near Fairfield Rd.
At the end of Cardinal Rd, they made a “wiggle in the road” in order to save trees.
In addition to retaining more trees, the plan would add more green around the bleachers, “to make it feel a little more rural.”
The Greenwich Conservation Commission had expressed concerned some of the property is in a flood plane and asked whether the turf might come loose.
The applicant’s engineer Dan Kroeber of Milone & MacBroom said they had worked closely with DPW engineers and that from a FEMA perspective, there would be no impact to the flood plane.
He said the field hockey field will be a little lower and flood first. But, he said, “It has no infill by design. It’s a very dense, heavy product. It gets glued down to the base. It won’t have an issue with floating.”
“The second field is at a high elevation and is designed so it doesn’t flood. The product is pretty heavy. The infill is a coated sand product and will resist buoyancy. We’re not concerned about it,” he said.
A paved area near the bleacher drop off area has beenremoved, and a new landscape treatment has been created.
The mature growth trees that serves as a buffer to Greenwich Country Club will be retained.
The proposed multi purpose field has been pulled away from the creek, and there is a replanting plan that would remove invasive species.
Again, conversation returned to acquiring property by the Stanwich Rd high school campus rather than moving students back and forth to the lower school.
Ms Alban said she didn’t understand why the proposed bleachers were temporary.
Attorney Cohen said the temporary bleachers allow the school flexibility. He said the bleachers could be moved, and the school really does not know what the result of the soft opening will be.
“It may be that they come back to you and ask to develop more permanent seating, or they may live with what they have,” Mr. Cohen said. “Also this costs less.”
Head of school Adam Rohdie said, “If we had unlimited funds and space we would do it right away.”
Mr. Cohen said other properties might come on the market in the area of the Stanwich Rd campus.
“As the school grows you see what happens to the demand,” Alban said, adding that the concept of a soft opening was good. “It would be great if you agree to the annual review. We know where the problematic intersections are. That’s what we don’t want to see get worse.”
The event is a “must close” at the commission’s next meeting. The commission asked the school to propose “a look back plan” that includes the ways to measure neighborhood impact.
During public comment Lisa Bishop who described her property a completely surrounded by GCDS, said her concerns remained privacy and traffic.
“Nothing has been done about either issue” she said. “The scale of the bleachers are somewhat smaller, but not significantly smaller. …They allow the public and GHS students to park in the existing lot. We’ve asked repeatedly since meeting with GCDS to please work with us for a written agreement that they will not allow the public to park there….We got a letter back from GCDS saying they will try, but their enforcement is basically using the neighbors calling.”
“If you build it they will come,” Bishop said. “We think it will be something we have to fight for years unless we give up and let them do what they want.”
Bishop said GCDS sometimes allows outside groups to use the field, and on one recent Sunday every parking space was taken and people parked on her lawn.
Joseph Boldt, who has lived at the corner of Cardinal Rd and Fairfield Rd for 30+ years said, “We’ve tried to be understanding, but the use of Cardinal Rd as single path in and out is beyond the pale.”
He asked that the school park for the field at Old Church Rd and have people walk from there.
“That would eliminate horrible congestion at the nexus of Cardinal Rd, Fairfield Rd, Hillside Rd and Stanwich Rd,” he said.
Steve Miller, who lives on Hillside Rd, described the intersection of Fairfield and Hillside as treacherous, and said there was no enforcement when landscape trucks park illegally.
He said the proposed increase in parking of 84 parking spaces concerned him.
“When MISA was built many things were promised and not fulfilled, and there were no consequences,” Miller added.
Dave Krumlauf, the facilities director at GCDS, said he lives at 21 Cardinal Road. “I do believe the new parking and roundabout at the end of road will make traffic dramatically better,” he said.
“We have to balance whether development keeps Greenwich vibrant, neighborhood protection and furthering educational facilities,” Alban said.
“It’s very difficult because the demand for development is constant,” she said, adding that schools are allowed in residential zones.
Alban asked the applicant to talk to the neighbors before coming back to P&Z on Aug 4.
“And make sure this is not further imposing on the community…Get their key concerns and we’ll put it into when we do a ‘look back.’ That’s what is key in a special permit.”
Commissioner Nick Macri asked the applicant to address GCDS allowing outside groups to use the fields.
“Bear in mind it’s very likely going to be a condition that you not do so,” Alban said.
Mr. Rohdie said the school lets groups including the Boys & Girls Club use the fields, and considered it part of being a good neighbor.
“You’d be shutting it down,” he said.
“You have to make a choice,” Alban said. “It’s a tough one.”
“All these changes are adding better a flow of traffic and a cleaner, safer site,” Mr. Rohdie said. “Everything we’re doing is making it better, not worse.”
The item was left open.