Three hours were dedicated by the Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission on Tuesday to a preliminary application for a 86-unit, 5 story residential development proposed at 5 Brookridge Drive, at the corner of East Putnam Ave.
The project is submitted under CT’s affordable housing statute, 8-30g, meaning it overrides local zoning regulations. Of the 86 units, 26 would be designated affordable, with 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units.
Since the application is “preliminary,” the discussion with the commission was non binding.
“It is just to provide guidance and does not have standing in the courts,” explained town planner Katie DeLuca.
The existing zone is R20, and the 1.7 acres property abuts single family houses to the north. Across Putnam Ave to the south is the Milbrook private golf course.
The property is also a stone’s throw from the intersection with Indian Field Rd and Stanwich Rd, which has a history of crashes and heavy congestion in rush hour including school drop off and dismissal for three schools: Greenwich High School, Central Middle School and Cos Cob School.
Bruce Cohen represented the applicant, Joe Pecora who did not speak.
Mr. Cohen said 5 Brookridge was an appropriate locaton for affordable housing because residents can walk to multiple “community assets,” including GHS, religious institutions and retail shopping. Also, it is on a bus route.
That said, it was pointed out that the buses don’t run frequently, and to take the train from Cos Cob station, one would have a treacherous walk along Indian Field Road, where there are no sidewalks.
Mr. Cohen said when they return for the next meeting they will have timed the buses for frequency.
Mr. Cohen said it was the prerogative of DPW commissioner Amy Siebert to grant approval to connect to the town sewer system, but that he couldn’t go to the DPW commissioner first.
“This project must be connected to the town sewer system to proceed. If it is not, then the project just won’t take place,” Cohen said, adding that it was the function of the commission, per section 269a of the Greenwich Town Charter, “to make a finding that the present, future or cumulative effect of permitting the connection will not adversely effect the town’s POCD.”
He referred to earlier relevant cases including Mackall vs Greenwich P&Z in 1999 in which a connection to the town sewer was sought.
Mr. Cohen said the town’s treatment plant had capacity to handle the flow from the development.
He said its capacity was 12 million gallons a day, but it treats little over 7 million gallons per day, and the Brookridge project would generate 23,400 gallons per day.
“There has been a steady decline in the usage of the plant of about a million gallons per day decrease since 2017,” Cohen said.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban explained that decrease was intentional, and that DPW had been making a concerted effort to reduce flow.
She noted inflow and infiltration was a huge problem after heavy rain events, which are becoming more frequent.
“There was too much demand on the lines, too much Inflow and Infiltration,” Alban said.
Further, she said P&Z wrote the POCD without a consultant, and there was more language about affordable housing than ther was about infrastructure.
“We just say ‘top quality infrastructure,’ and don’t really talk about sewer enough to give us a clear indication,” she said.
“The wording in the draft (affordable housing) plan is that our capacity is line limited. There are lines that are especially during significant storm events are significantly strained.”
She said the issue was not so much the capacity of the plant, but the impact on the lines and their limitations.
Mr. Cohen said in the past there had been applications for sewer connections to the town line for properties on Brookridge, but there had also been denials.
There was an approval for a sewer permit for Milbrook Club across the street, which is also outside the town sewer boundary.
Ms Deluca noted that all decisions are made on a case by case basis. She said the DPW commissioner had sole jurisdiction over the Brookridge proposal.
“The town has had for pretty close to 20 years, by virtue of a consent decree, a consulting engineer working on inspecting and assessing the sewer system including lines and pump stations and submitted to the town, and two very extensive reports going back to that time,” Cohen said.
He said Camp Dresser & McKee does a sewer system evaluation survey, “SESS,” on a regular basis, that indicates portions of the system that require updating and repair.
“No portion of the system required to serve the property has been identified by the SESS. I believe there is a certain amount of comfort you can get from that, and the fact the town has issued permits on a fairly frequent basis, albeit not for projects this size,” he added. “It looks like there is sufficient capacity of the plant.”
“But the plant is not the constraining factor,” Alban said.
There was discussion over whether 8-30g overrides local zoning regulations, but not other land use requirements.
Storm water and drainage
“DPW was unhappy with your drainage,” Alban said. “They were very concerned about the fact you didn’t include the additional pumping. I don’t know what this adds to your project, they’re asking you to consider a waterproof foundation.”
Engineer Tony D’Andrea for the applicant said analysis had been previously done for a proposed development at the corner of Hillside and East Putnam Ave. It looked at FEMA models and reviewed the stream channel.
He said the watershed is 5.8 square miles, and the Brookridge site is 1.74 acres.
“It’s a small portion of the watershed. We’re 17 feet above the elevation of flooding during peak of a 100 year storm,” he said.
D’Andrea said the applicant was obliged to treat the water so it was good quality before leaving the site. Anything falling on the access driveways and parking lots would be filtered through permeable pavers, and water from the roof would make its way to a sand filter made of material equivalent to what is used in rain gardens, and be drawn out and dissipated to the drainage system along Route 1.
There is a catch basin on southwest corner of Brookridge and Rte 1. From there water travels along the north before heading south and finally into the pond on south of Rte 1. D’Andrea said that pond is a collector from a variety of contributors, most notably East Brothers Brook.
“Our drainage system does discharge downstream from the dam, which is route 1,” D’Andrea said.
Ms Alban said per DPW there were several areas where the plan needed revision, including analysis on the impact of 50- and 100-year storms.
“They come back to runoff volume increase, and whether you should investigate a water tight foundation,” she said. “The sand filter design was of great concern to Environmental and Conservation, and DPW who find it not acceptable.”
Commissioner Arnold Welles raised concerns about flooding in Milbrook.
“They experience significant flooding due to both creeks coming into it. In your summary you say the development won’t cause any adverse impacts to the site or the surrounding area. Please define the surrounding area.”
“We’re not obligated to analyze watershed all the way to the outflow to LI Sound,” D’Andrea said, adding that Milbrook would not be adversely impacted by the 5 Brookridge development.
D’Andrea said any issues could be addressed satisfactorily working with DPW.
Traffic consultant John Canning said increased trips generated by the development would not materially change traffic conditions on the corridor.
As for car crashes, he said that in 7 years there were 162 crashes on Rte 1 between Hillside and Indian Field Road, with 61 at the intersection of Indian Field Rd, 31 at Hillside, and 10 at Brookridge.
Ms Alban asked for a deeper dive into crash numbers because the UConn Crash Data Repository had higher counts.
Canning said his client would be willing to limit access to right turn in and right turn out at Putnam Ave.
Alban asked him to explore further safety enhancements.
“As we add density to this neighborhood we have to think about safety overall,” she said. “Rte 1 has become increasingly dense, with about 20,000 vehicles per day. Just for comparison, I95 traffic along this is 120,000 to 150,000 a day. You do have a high level of traffic, and one intersection that is at a Level of Service F (Indian Field and East Putnam).”
“As less people ride the train, it gets very congested,” Alban said.
Fire Dept Comments
Ms Alban noted the Fire Dept said there was a problem with equipment access, particularly to the west where the applicant proposes amenities.
Mr. Cohen said the Fire Marshal’s comments could be addressed.
“We know fire safety comes first, but we’d like to retain as much of the amenities we’re proposing as possible.”
During public comment attorney Mario Coppola, of Berchem Moses PC, said his clients, residents in the area of Brookridge Drive and Hillside Rd had recently commenced legal action.
Those residents oppose the development based on health and safety concerns they believe outweigh the need for affordable housing.
He said their main objection was based on a deed restriction that restricts property for single family use.
“This application is not ready for prime time before your commission for many reasons, most notably because the applicant has not proposed an adequate sewage disposal system for the proposed development,” Coppola said.
He said the Health Dept determined that on site sewage disposal could be provided for the existing bedroom count.
“The fact that an on site septic system cannot accommodate an 86-unit multi family development is irrelevant to the DPW analysis. Bottom line, an on site sewage disposal system for reasonable residential development can be provided here.”
“The applicant has not produced any evidence supporting its position that post-development peak flows will not exceed the capacity of the town sewer infrastructure and will not contribute to the discharge of sewage and sanitary overflows, particularly in periods of heavy rainfall.”
Coppola said he also had relevant case law to share.
“Connecticut law is clear that CT statute 8-30g does not apply to decisions of water pollution control authorities, which in this case is your DPW.”
Coppola noted that while 8-30g overrode zoning, “The town DPW commissioner is not subject to state statue 8-30g.”
He said the applicant’s traffic and parking data were incomplete, lacked critical data, misrepresented the number of crashes in close proximity to the property, and underestimated queuing.
He said the estimated 31 to 38 additional trips generated would worsen the adjacent intersection that already operates at Level of Service F, worsening congestion and making it unsafe for motorists and pedestrians, including students walking to GHS.
Further, he said inadequate parking would result in illegally parked cars parked on Brookridge, impeding safe passage for cars and emergency vehicles.
Coppola said his clients had retained engineer Steve Trinkaus who was concerned about the storm water management plan, particularly given they are increasing lot coverage by 212%, and suggested runoff would be discharged onto adjacent properties. He noted the town’s POCD talks about limiting impervious surfaces.
Coppola suggested the application return to the Wetlands agency.
“The IWW has the discretion to determine whether an activity will impact wetlands or watercourses. The fact the property does not contain wetlands does not divest the wetlands agency for jurisdiction,” he added.
Lastly, he said fire safety was a concern. “Frankly, I read the report, and it seemed pretty scary to me. The protection of life and property outweighs the need for 26 units of affordable housing.”
Susan Meyers, a neighbor on Brookridge Drive said trees shown on the applicant’s materials were actually on her property, as well as a stone column. She asked how the on-site dog park waste management would be managed, considering there could be upwards of 100 dogs.
Sam Romeo, chair of Greenwich Communities (formerly the housing authority) asked whether residents would be charged extra for use of amenities, including parking, swimming pool and playground.
“What happens to all the affordable units after 40 years?” Romeo asked. “They become market rate. Then we’re back to where we started.”
Ann Knox of 30 Brookridge Drive said she suspected the trip generation estimates at peak time were too low.
“I don’t think it takes into account delivery services? And it certainly doesn’t take into account that Waze and Google Paps route people down our road right now to avoid GHS traffic.”
She was also concerned about blasting of ledge rock to create the underground parking equivalent to 3/4 of a football field.
Don Hamilton said Ida flooding had damaged at least 7 homes on Brothers Brook, from Fairfield Rd to Route 1, and homes on Greenwich Creek and Old Church Rd, as well as homes in Milbook were damaged. He said the 20+ trees that had absorbed up to 4,000 gallons per day had been cut down.
He said homeowners on Brookridge had been denied connections to the town sewer line, including himself.
As for traffic Mr. Hamilton said getting out of the building onto East Putnam Ave would be such a challenge that cars would be queue all the way to Fairfield Rd. “Brookridge is going to become a one way street sooner or later,” he said. “It is one of the most dangerous intersections in town.”
Sandra Heath of 10 Brookridge Drive said her home and yard had flooded on multiple occasions in the past year, with water cascading into her basement and pool.
“Creating such amount of impervious surface will funnel more water into my yard,” she said.
“I’m also concerned that neither Mr. Pecora nor his partners have experience with drainage systems. I’d like to hear more about their experience,” Ms Heath said. “Moreover, it seems his business partner, Finkelstein Timberger East Real Estate (FTRE) has an interest as a contract purchaser from a recent filing made in the land records.”
“From the FTRE website it seems they mainly maintain buildings in the Bronx, so I’m not clear how familiar they’d be maintaining the drainage systems required by the Town of Greenwich,” she said. “And I’d like more information on their role in the project versus Mr. Pecora’s because it’s especially concerning after a quick Google search reveals that that an individual who appears to be identified as a principal of FTRE has repeatedly been on the New York City’s Pubic Advocate’s list of Worst Landlords. And we ask that Mr. Pecora confirm that this is indeed the correct party that he is in business with.”
Lucia Jansen from District 7 said with 185 parking spaces, the additional cars in the area that is often currently total gridlock at many times of the day would be a health and safety issue.
“There is no mention of the many near-miss accidents as well as fender benders not included in the report,” she added.
Ashley Cole of 11 Hilside Rd shared photos of flooding after Ida in September, when the massive water event closed Rte 1 at Hillside. She said the creek flooded south of Rte 1 and left Milbrook residents stranded.
“This is a sensitive environment,” Cole said adding that there are 10 acres of wetlands under the GHS fields. “This is one of the most irresponsible application I’ve ever seen. It’s only going to add to impervious surface and create more runoff. The safety of our entire community is at stake.”
Nick Abbott, a Greenwich resident, said the benefits of the project outweighed health and safety needs, and Greenwich had an acute shortage of rental housing.
“Greenwich used to permit and build hundreds of multi-family units per year, at the stage where it was fueling the town’s growth. That approach made our town where it is today and provided housing opportunities for people along the income spectrum.”
“Since the time when Greenwich did permit hundreds of multi-family units per year, rents have increased over four or five times the rate of inflation in town,” Abbott said. “I’ve heard concerns on this call around traffic and impervious surfaces, and I don’t want to be dismissive of those concerns. However, those concerns are best addressed by permitting more dense multi-family housing close to services and public transit.”
Elizabeth Dempsey of Hillside Road doubted the applicant’s traffic counts.
“Everyone is more mobile, and people have very little patience for the time constraints of traffic and busing. Students want to drive their own cars. There’s more food delivery, including Ubers, and I constantly get Ubers coming to my house when they’re for GHS,” she said, adding that Route 1 serves as Greenwich’s primary emergency corridor and with so much traffic, the impact and delay on emergency services was a concern.
State Rep Kimberly Fiorello (R-149) noted that local teachers and police officers earned too much to qualify for one of the 26 units.
“I’d love to understand better how they will manage these affordable units for the next 40 years as the affordable unit residents lives will change,” she said.
She asked what happens when a resident got a new job or got married and they no longer qualified with their income.
Fiorello said of residents who had been flooded. “…it really rocks their world and creates incredible financial and emotional distress…”
Eric Brower AICP, representing the 178 members of the Milbrook Homeowners Association, said the impact of the development on that community was direct.
Milbrook’s concerns were similar to those of the Conservation Dept.
Brower said the pond referred to as a ‘collector’ was located at the corner of the Rte 1 and Woodside Drive and was one of four ponds in the Milbrook system. He said the pond, having served over the years as a sedimentation basin, had been excavated several times to remove silt from upstream and had been impacted significantly by flood flows.
He said Milbrook was working with both DPW and State Dept of Transportation to mitigate the impacts of the upcoming state bridge improvement project.
“The state proposal is to move the flood from above the Post Road to below the Post Road by substantially opening up the bridge,” he explained. “It is tied directly to the storm water discharge for the site.”
“And there are concerns about increase of flows, their velocities and impact of sediment capability and erosion below the pond.”
“The burden on the applicant is to have to consider its discharge, both under present conditions with the bridge not widened, as well as if does become widened,” Brower said, adding that Milbrook had asked the state to provide an analysis of flows, scouring and erosion as the result of raising the bridge at Hillside.
“It needs more than generic philosophy to explain how it’s going to work,” Brower added.
Another complication is the collector pond is half owned by the state and half by the private owners of Milbrook Association.
Brower said even though a greensheet had been issued by Wetlands, and the pond was more than 100 ft away, that was not a relevant standard to evaluate impact, and Wetlands should be consulted on the application.
Burke Dempsey of Hillside Rd said the application should be put on hold until the bridge project to be completed.
He said the bridge project was going to be “one of the biggest SNAFUs we’ve seen in a long time.”
“It’s a heart attack,” he said. “You really can’t be building anything of this scale for a number of years.”
Also, he said laws regarding affordable housing were changing. “I think the developer is trying to rush this through. On top of that, the tactics used to cut all the trees down is yet another real estate tactic.”
In the end, the commission asked both attorneys to submit briefs, elaborating on the cases they had referenced. Mr. Cohen has 15 days to submit his and Mr. Coppola will then have 15 days to respond.
The next P&Z meeting is on April 12 and will feature a 8-30g proposal for 192 units on Church Street and Sherwood. (Final Site Plan for Controversial Church & Sherwood 8-30g Submitted to P&Z)