On Tuesday, the Planning & Zoning commission heard a pre-application for a five-story, 86-unit 8-30g affordable housing development at 5 Brookridge Rd, on the corner of East Putnam Ave (Rte 1).
The location is on a heavily trafficked segment of Rte 1, a stone’s throw from the busy intersection of Indian Field Rd, where a crash happened just last week, and a block from Greenwich High School.
Per 8-30g, a developer is exempt from local zoning regulations if 30% of the units are set aside for Affordable housing, unless the commission decides there are health, safety, environmental or other major concerns that would outweigh the Town’s need for affordable housing.
Attorney Bruce Cohen, representing the applicants, the Pecoras, who are contract purchasers of the property, reminded the commission, “8-30g in effect trumps local zoning regulations.”
“One of the things that 8-30g does is place the burden, in the event of an appeal, on the commission to establish whether issues of public health and safety are involved,” he added.
There development would feature parking for 183 vehicles for residents in a mix of one-, two-, three-bedroom and a few studio units.
Some parking would be below grade, and some at grade under the building. There are plans for residential amenities including fitness center, officer for manager, a pool and playground.
The Pecoras seek to use public water and town sewer. The property is not currently connected to town sewer.
As for access and egress, P&Z chair Margarita Alban she was concerned about car accidents during peak hours, including GHS school start and dismissal, and commuter rush hour.
“There is not queuing space on that site. It could mean that cars back up on the Post Road and you’re in harm’s way when you do that,” she said.
“I was saddened to see that this lot has been clear cut prior to coming before us for any discussion, and I believe it has also filed to remove street trees,” she added. (A public tree hearing is scheduled for Friday, Jan 14, 2022 at 1:00pm.)
Attorney Cohen defended the cutting of multiple mature trees prior to the application.
“There is no legislation either state or local that would prevent that tree removal from taking place,” he said. “The applicant has chosen to start doing some of the work that will need to be done to develop the property.”
Ms Alban said she was grateful that the proposal did include some outdoor open space for resident recreation.
“It is enormously frustrating that 8-30g does not require access to open space, to recreation areas for residents,” she said. “I am gratified to see there is a playground here, a little picnic area and an amenity terrace.”
“Since the health outcomes have been so poor with Covid in low income areas, it’s of extreme concern,” she added.
Commissioner Arnold Wells brought up storm water flooding. He said if storm water were to run into the creek down the hill that could create an issue.
Storm water was a theme during public comment. Many of the dozen speakers suggested flooding was a public health and safety concern.
Mario Coppola, a land use attorney who is partner at Berchem Moses, said he represented 82 residents whose numbers would increase significantly.
He said the project would negatively impact the health, safety and general welfare of the community, and that the group was working with experts to address issues of concern.
“We look forward to presenting those issues of concern with expert testimony to support our arguments when there is a full application submitted to the commission,” he said.
“This is not a project about affordable housing,” said Tara Restieri. “It does not help increase the overall 10% required by the state. What it does is increase the denominator.”
This has been pointed out in several recent discussions of 8-30g proposals. Residents have referred to “moving the goalposts,” because when the overall supply of housing stock increases, the 10% goal gets no closer.
“It is about two fundamental issues: health and safety,” Restieri added. “We all know what that intersection is already like without the addition of 183 additional cars….Trying to make a left out of there, even on a good day, is very difficult and puts us at high risk for accidents.”
Restieri said limiting residents to right-turn only would add burden to residents of Hillside with cars attempting to turn around on that street.
Still, Restieri said her greatest concern was flooding.
“This project is going to create additional impervious surface area directly adjacent to the watershed,” she said.
“It would run off at a faster rate into a stream and into an intersection that already floods the adjacent neighborhood,” she continued, adding that here were residents on Brookside, Hillside, Old Church and Plow Lane who had to abandon their homes after Ida and move to rentals.
Susan Meyers who lives next door on Brookridge referred to “senseless destruction.”
“I am appalled by the blatant disregard the developer has shown to our neighbors’ delicate ecosystem, beginning with the clear cutting of the property’s trees prior to approval,” she said. “This property may not be on the wetlands map, but that doesn’t mean its actions will not impact the wetlands or the developers should not have a responsibility to them.”
Further she said she was concerned about blasting so close to two gas stations, all while students walk by.
Amy Carbone from the association at Milbrook, which is comprised of 176 homes, said her group had a very serious concern about flooding that might result from the proposed 95 underground parking spaces.
Milbrook, a private gated residential community with a golf course is located across the street on Rte 1.
The water will drain into our pond and Long Island Sound, and the capacity simply just does not exist,” she said. “We saw that from hurricane Ida.”
Carbone also pointed out the difficulty of turning left onto Rte 1 from Brookridge, which she noted is a town emergency route, and is already stressed by school traffic and becomes an alternative route when there is an accident on I95.
JoAnn Messina, director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said her organization was “appalled at the hubris of clear cutting a property prior to any approvals or even sale.”
“It is really horrific that this clear cutting was done in this area,” she added.
Messina, a longtime downtown Greenwich resident whose child attended Greenwich High School, said she was familiar with the heavy traffic on Rte 1, which she noted would worsen with upcoming projects, including the Dept of Transportation bridge project at Hillside and Rte 1, and plans to construct a second access to GHS onto Rte 1.
Sam Romeo, the chair of the Greenwich Communities (formerly known as the Housing Authority), spoke against the application, describing it as “another offspring of the Hyde Hotel.”
He estimated that the site would generate about 366 trips on a given day.
Romeo asked why Mr. Cohen mentioned the commercial buildings and gas station close by, but had not mentioned Pathways, which is an independent group home for adults with mental illness.
Vin DiMarco and Ernst Schirmer both talked about the opportunity to make the section of the Post Rd from Cos Cob center to Old Church Road both bike and pedestrian friendly.
“This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make that happen,” DiMarco said.
Donald Hamilton expressed concern for the residents who live in the supportive housing at Pathways and often cross Putnam Ave to get to the service station.
Later, Peter Tesei the new executive director of Pathways, said that while his board did not take a position on the application, their concern was the safety and well being of their residents. Tesei noted that Pathways housing receives support from HUD.
Mr. Hamilton spoke about challenges to egress on the site. “You cannot make a left turn onto Brookridge today – there will be a queue to North Stamford. And you cannot have an exit on the Post Road. And you cannot have another stop light 30 ft away.”
Mr. Hamilton said he was on a steering committee representing 100 homes in close proximity to the proposed site.
“Many, like mine, directly abut one of the two major watercourses that converge on the north side of Rte 1 near Hillside Rd,” he said. “We believe this project will have an adverse impact on runoff flooding, both downstream to Hillside and onto adjoining neighbors, as well as rising water tables damaging septic systems at several Brookridge properties.”
Sandra Heath of 10 Brookridge said visitors and deliveries would also require parking, and it would be inevitable that cars end up parking on Brookridge where there is no parking allowed. She said Brookridge, which has no sidewalks, was very narrow, and she feared traffic would back up onto the Post Rd.
Ms Heath said during recent storms, Brookridge became briefly impassible and that her basement had flooded, and runoff had come into her pool and back yard.
“The fact that this developer has already clear cut the property shows that they don’t understand the sensitivity of the area,” she said. “The developer has indicated that they would reuse some of the water for irrigation, but it seems there is not going to be much left to irrigate.”
Caroline Atkins from Fairfield Rd, which is at the T at the end of Brookridge, said her home flooded badly.
“I suffered 5 ft of water in my basement. That had never happened before. All the roads were flooded. Hillside was closed. Stanwich was closed. Fairfield was closed. And this is just going to continue to get worse.”
“They said it was a 100-year flood, but I think we’re going to see this happen much more,” she said. “I really think this is a pubic health and safety issue.”
Ann Knox of 30 Brookridge said her street was also egress for GCDS and its stadium on Cardinal Rd. She said the traffic study should look at the area as a whole. She said she had checked and that the property had no curb cut onto the Post Rd.
Ms Alban noted the Pecoras were present on Zoom, but they declined to speak.
Ms Alban summarized the concerns expressed.
“Mr. Cohen, we’ve heard of all the concerns from residents. What rises to health and safety is obviously everybody knows about climate change and the severe damage from Ida – everybody’s worried about flooding. You’ve heard a lot of concerns about traffic. Our need to protect the at risk population that uses Pathways.”
“We have the elephant in the room, which is the issue of the sewer connection,” she continued. “That zoning issue will be decided by the Zoning Enforcement Officer.”
As for the egress, she reminded Mr. Cohen of the concern about ability to stack cars for the ingress/egress.
“Frankly, I think it is suicidal to make a left turn onto the Post Rd most days of the week at most times, but the state frowns on us from forbidding it.”
Lastly, Alban asked Mr. Cohen if his clients had considered a submitting the proposal as Historic Overlay, which would preserve the historic structure, or whether they had considered a 6-110 development, which is the town’s workforce housing regulation.
She suggested the applicant work with staff as they finalize their application.