Neighbors Slam Dearfield Drive 8-30g; Concerns Include Storm Water, Wetlands, Sewer, Landmarked Houses, Crash Data

On Tuesday the Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission heard a controversial a pre-application for a 105-unit 8-30g affordable housing development on Dearfield Drive, which runs from the Lake Ave traffic circle to Route 1.

Cars and trucks head south on Dearfield Drive near Grove Lane. Feb 8, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager
51 Dearfield Drive. Feb 8, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager
59 Dearfield Drive. Feb 8, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Under the8-30g state affordable housing that exempts developments from local zoning regs in all but rare instances, 32 units would be set aside as affordable. Half of them would be for tenants earning 60% of the State Median Income (SMI) and the other half would be at 80% of the SMI requirement.

The proposal drew 52 members of the public to Zoom and 18 people testified. Over 50 pages of public comment had been submitted prior to the meeting.

The developers propose to tear down century-old Tudor Style houses at 59 and 61 Dearfield Drive to build a 5-story building apartment building.

John Tesei, representing the property owners, said his clients had owned the property more than a decade and had been thinking about how best to develop it.

“It ultimately was concluded last year that a multi-family building on the site, specifically on the southern portion of the property would make the most sense from construction and environmental standpoints – and a drainage standpoint,” Tesei said.

The attorney said the northeast corner was “a technical wetlands by soil type,” but “had not been maintaining any wetlands features whatsoever.”

“Enhancement plans certainly will be robust in that area,” he said, adding that the applicant was aware that a Wetlands permit was required. Toward that end they hired William Kenny as consultant on the project.

The project engineer is Tony D’Andrea, the architect is Rich Granoff, and the traffic consultant Kevin Molnar.

“We anticipated there would not be a full embracing by the public given the size of the project, but we believe that its location is ideal,” Tesei said.

Applicant’s rendering of the 105 unit building proposed at 51 and 69 Dearfield Drive.
Traffic on Dearfield Drive waiting at the intersection with Rte 1. Feb 8, 2023

As for traffic, he said, “Based upon the statistical numbers provided in terms of peak hour traffic-in and traffic-out, we’re confident this project will fit in smartly without any materially adverse effects on the traffic.”

Mr. Tesei said Mr. D’Andrea had been already working closely with the town’s engineering division and that they were aware there had been flooding in the area.

“There is a cohesive game plan and an overall consensus about how to handle and improve the storm water emanating from this property, both in terms of quality and quantity,” Tesei said.

Tesei said despite old deeds and documents being circulated, any restrictions on the properties were removed in 2021.

“The property is not burdened by any restrictive covenants dealing with the number or homes or subdivisions on these properties,” he said. “The title is free and clear.”

P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban said that while the location had close proximity to public transportation and many amenities, there were major issues to address.

She noted that while the development did not encroach into the 100 ft setback for Wetlands, it was an intense development that could nevertheless give rise to wetlands concerns.

A second concern was infiltration on the Horseneck sewer line.

“We would want you to fully explore this issue with Mr. Feminella and the Sewer Dept before you do any work or invest at all in it,” Alban said.

Alban said that at times of the day traffic was heavy, and there was concern about the impact on emergency vehicles traveling, for example, from a crash on I95 up to Greenwich Hospital. At certain times, the existing Level of Service at that intersection was a D.

45 Dearfield Drive is between the parking lot behind Greenwich Library and the properties the applicant seeks to develop with a 105 unit building.

Lastly, the commission was concerned about the impact on 45 Dearfield Drive, which would be sandwiched between Greenwich Library’s large parking lot and the applicant’s proposed five story building.

She said that while the new landscaping regs would not necessarily apply because 8-30g is exempt, their intent of the regs is to shield single family residents from multi-family, commercial, institutional uses. She said the commission would hope the applicant would consider those regs as they develop landscaping.

Commissioner Arn Welles said with the addition of impervious surface, the commission wondered where was the tipping point. “Is it a five-year storm? Is it a 10-year storm?”

Alban noted that the existing houses had landmark status, but it was not clear whether their protection would rise to something that the commission might consider in the way 8-30g was written. Still, she said they planned to look into it.

“Is there way to saving these buildings? Could they be reused in your plan in a certain way?” Alban asked Mr. Tesei.

Mr. Tesei said as far as preserving the buildings, working with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund might make it possible to modify the plan while balancing costs.

“Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s all about the money,” Tesei said.

“It is an alternative for us to perhaps come up with a smaller project. Whether we can save one or two of those buildings as the result, I don’t know. But we’re certainly going to explore.”

Alban said first priorities should be addressing environmental issues, wetlands and sewer.

Public Testimony

Among those who testified were Mario Coppola, an attorney for the neighbors, State Rep Rachel Khanna (D-149), State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151), and former State Rep, Kimberly Fiorello who lives in the neighborhood.

Mr. Coppola said about 10 years earlier a development with 14 units was rejected on the same property.

“Unfortunately this seems to be a circumstance where a developer has come in with the 8-30g hammer, proposing a project which is really unrealistic and quite frankly irresponsible,” Coppola said.

The neighbors’ attorney said he was concerned about the town’s sewer capacity to accommodate a development anywhere near the size and density of the one proposed, and that DPW had concerns 10 years earlier about the 14-unit proposal.

“Fast forward to 2023, to accommodate a development that is 15 times larger than the 14 units proposed back in 2010, and is an incredible 52-1/2 times larger than the existing development on site,” Coppola said.

Coppola said he had been surprised himself when driving in the neighborhood by its close proximity to the hospital.

“The amount of change of the impervious surface will have an effect on the flooding in the area. You don’t have to be a professional engineer to know that. It’s just common sense…” Coppola continued, adding that the increase in impervious coverage conflicted with Greenwich’s POCD.

Coppola noted that the subject property contained almost 12,000 square feet of inland wetlands. He argued that made it unsuitable for a development anywhere the proposed size from standpoint of water control.

Democratic State Rep Khanna said that while the state affordable housing statute 8-30g had been intended to promote the availability of affordable housing, it put the community “at the mercy of developers who will build as large as is profitable without taking into account whether the surrounding community can handle such density in its schools, roads, water supplies and sewers.”

She said the application served as a wake-up call to the town to develop a plan to meet its affordable housing target.

Khanna was concerned that increased congestion on Dearfield Drive might delay and imperil patient care at Greenwich Hospital.

Tara Restieri, who is on the board of Greenwich EMS, described the existing challenge for ambulances to make their way from Rte 1 to Greenwich Hospital.

She recommended that the developer talk to Greenwich EMS because Dearfield is a major thoroughfare for them to transport patients to and from the hospital.

State Rep Hector Arzeno also opposed the proposal. “I oppose oversized developments that are directly impacting our community,” he said. “These type of proposals under 8-30g are taking advantage to circumvent local zoning regulations.”

John C. Porter of Dearfield Drive noted that as a result of a Freedom of Information request to Greenwich Police, his mother received crash data for Dearfield Drive and learned that there had been 70 crashes in the past six years. He noted that many of those accidents involved pedestrians and drivers stopping for emergency vehicles.

“We’re not against affordable housing opportunities in this town,” he said. “While we stand here, we are against the exploitation by developers who are wielding 8-30g to push these grossly oversized and under-delivered affordable housing, which fail to protect basic public health and safety of our community.”

“The proposed development in 2010 was denied based on wetlands,” Mr. Porter continued. “It is clear to anyone that a 150,000 sq ft building, despite being on the edge of this 100 ft setback, will degrade the wetland, as well as increase flooding in the area. Just digging a larger hole will not fix this issue.”

“There is size. There is wetlands. There is sewer, there is safety and flooding. This proposal, as it stands, is a bridge way too far,” Porter said.

Pond and stream on the east side of Dearfield Drive carries water that goes under the roadway.
Pond along Grove Lane.
Stream along Grove Lane.
Stream along Grove Lane.

Anthony Moor of Dearfield Lane said he had moved to the neighborhood for the same reason the developers chose it for their development – its proximity to downtown, the train and other amenities.

However, he said he was concerned about flooding.

“My home is arguable directly at the bottom of the gully below this development, and is perfectly positioned to receive all the water that it may shed. In fact, we already are,” Mr. Moor said. “When my house was built prior to our coming to this neighborhood, an extensive retention system was built under the front lawn to slow impacts of storm water runoff. It still flooded in this basement that I sit in today, up to what I understand was four feet.”

Debbie Appelbaum, also of Dearfield Lane, said a wetlands basin on her property fills with water from upland after rainfall.

“With just the amount of rain we’ve had over the last few weeks, I have a pond that supports waterfowl right now, and it happens frequently,” Appelbaum said, adding that she hoped the Wetlands agency would consider impacts beyond the subject properties.

She was also concerned about impacts to neighbors from blasting and about staging for construction vehicles.

“We already know what it’s like if Dearfield Drive has to be reduced to a single lane,” she said.

Diane Fox from the Greenwich Preservation Network of the Historic Society pointed out that 69 Dearfield Drive, which is 122 years old, was a landmark building, and that there were questions about a deed restriction on the property.

She noted that the 8-30g statute did not directly address the issue of historic properties. However, Ms Fox said, “It empowers the zoning commissions to use their decisions to protect substantial public interests in health, safety or other matters which the commission may legally consider,” she said. “We feel historic matters are part of that.”

Veronique Magnan of Dearfield Drive said there were numerous young children living in the neighborhood, which she said was already unsafe. She said the school bus stop was at Dearfield and Grove, but the first week of school a car was rear-ended as the children were coming off the bus. As a result she said the district moved the bus stop to a safer location.

Lindsay McQuarter said over 2-1/2 years of waiting at the bus stop with her children at Grove and Dearfield she too had witnessed crashes including one car that mounted the curb where her children were standing.

McQuarter said small children play in the Grove Lane area and she was concerned that residents of the proposed development would have difficulty turning left to head south toward Rte 1, and would instead loop through Grove Lane to get to Brookside.

Hayley Hosie of Brookside Park, a dead end with seven houses, was concerned about traffic both during construction and after. “What we’ve seen from the construction that was done on sewer lines on Brookside Drive was that traffic will normally spill over into neighboring areas, potentially making Grove Lane another thoroughfare, which we find very concerning.”

Crosswalk at Grove and the west side of Dearfield where the sidewalk runs the entire length of the road.

Former State Rep Fiorello of Grove Lane testified that in May 2021, her child was in a car that was totaled after being hit when she was on her way home from a piano lesson.

“Living right on Grove Lane and Dearfield, it’s not infrequent that I hear tires screeching and sometimes we go to the window to see if everything is okay,” she said, adding that drivers turning from Grove onto Dearfield don’t always realize how fast cars are traveling and there have been crashes.

Ms Fiorello also urged the commission to consider preservation of historic buildings in the public interest.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban explained that landmarked buildings were not protected from development. “There is no zoning that isn’t overridden by 8-30g,” she said, adding that the Historic Overlay regulation provided incentives.

“We just need more people to take advantage of it,” Alban said. “The public also has to be willing to restrict those buildings from development.”

Martin Leibrock of Dearfield Lane, who said he worked in commercial construction, calculated roughly how many trucks would be required to export the fill associated with the underground parking garage, and estimated it would involve 4,000 trips with an 80,000 lb dump truck.

The sidewalk on the east side of Dearfield Drive does not extend the length of the road.
The sidewalk on the east side of Dearfield ends at 69 Dearfield.
Crosswalk off the Lake Ave traffic circle on Dearfield Drive. Feb 8, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Albert Roth, the caretaker at 45 Dearfield Drive, said it had been difficult to pull out of that driveway to that house for all of the 30 years he’d known the property owners.

And though was is a crosswalk 100 feet off the Lake Ave circle, he said, “I invite anyone to go on this panel to try to walk across it because that the cars that come from Glenville Road aren’t looking at the crosswalk. They are looking at the cars coming out of Lake Ave or in that circle. You’re taking your life in your hands.”

Travis Escobedo of Dearfield Lane brought up the issue of light pollution and its impacts on the health and safety of the community, including both residential and wildlife.

Ms Alban suggested neighbors monitor the agendas to see when the application comes before the Wetlands agency. “It’s legally separate for us,” Alban said. “I suggest you go there and speak.”