New Proposal for 5 Brookridge Would Restore and Preserve Historic House, Create 6 Condos

Note: Photos are copyright Leslie Yager/Greenwich Free Press

Back in 2021 the address 5 Brookridge became synonymous with the clear cutting of trees.

The owner of the property is Chris Franco. The contract purchaser at the time was Joe Pecora, who cut down the mature trees on the lot in anticipation of Planning & Zoning commission approval for a 86-unit, 5 story residential development submitted under the state affordable housing statute 8-30g.

Neighbors who opposed the development joined forces to hire attorneys.

At public P&Z hearings neighbors voiced concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety of such a large development just stone’s throw from the busy intersection of Route 1 and Indian Field Rd.

Then the town had concerns about connecting such a large development to the town’s sewer line.

Ultimately the application was withdrawn last year.

Chris Franco shares renderings of his proposed “Brookridge Crossing” at 5 Brookridge Drive. June 16, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Last week Mr. Franco submitted new plans to town hall for an adaptive reuse project at 5 Brookridge that would restore the historic house, re-purpose it and preserve it in perpetuity.

The house was built in 1907 by David M. Rousseau. Rousseau sold the house to nationally known vaudeville theater manager Julius Cahn, who purchased the house around 1910 as a weekend and summer home for his family.

Per the narrative, in perpetuity means enforceable by the Greenwich Historic District Commission and Greenwich Planning & Zoning, as required by the Greenwich Historic Overlay regulations. In addition, the applicant will undertake to have the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

5 Brookridge has distinctive Tudor elements.
The parcel at 5 Brookridge is set on 1.7 acres in the R20 zone. (Pictured December 2018). Per Mr. Franco’s application narrative, the house is a 2-½ story Colonial Revival leaning to the romantic style, with distinctive Tudor elements, including half-timbering on the upper gables. The house has a broad front porch with timbered ends, and originally had a substantial port cochere at the porch-end on the right hand side. Dec 7, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

Mr. Franco, who with his wife Rachel is currently restoring the second oldest house in Old Greenwich for their permanent home, said he has always been an admirer of historic structures and has numerous adaptive reuse projects under his belt.

Recently he and Rachel did an extensive renovation of the former Ole’s Boatyard that dates back to 1850.

The former Harbor House Inn in Old Greenwich that dates back to 1895, was converted from a 23-room inn to 6 condominiums while restoring the inn’s historic exterior.

Other major projects have been through the Greenwich Point Conservancy, where he serves as president, including the Innis Arden Cottage with its Floren Family Environmental Education Center, and the restored Gateway and Old Barn, which is home to the Sue H Baker Pavilion. Nearby, the Feake-Ferris House which dates back to 1640 and is the oldest house in Greenwich, was saved from demolition and restored.

And this fall the GPC’s next project, The Chimes Building, will get underway. That project includes both the Daniel J Donahue Water Sports Center and Emily’s Chimes named in honor of Emily Fedorko. Mr. Franco said Joe and Pam Fedorko’s foundation is paying for the restoration of the musical chimes, which was a $150,000 undertaking. The restoration work is being done by The Verdin Company, who specialize in chimes and bell systems.

“It’s going to be so cool because not only are they restoring the old mechanism, but putting a second set of strikers on the bells to be run by computers so we can play hundreds of songs,” Franco said.

But back to 5 Brookridge. Technically the address is 515 East Putnam Ave.

Mr. Franco’s plans for the proposed six-unit project restore the existing historic house and preserve it in perpetuity.

The restored main house will have two units. Behind that will be a carriage house and barn house, each with two more units for a total of 12 bedrooms.

The property will be serviced by a new six-unit, 12-bedroom septic system that has been approved by the Town of Greenwich.

The application will need to go before the Historic District Commission.

Prior to the contract with Pecora, back in 2018 Mr. Franco received unanimous support of the Historic District Commission for a Historic Overlay for “Milbrook Crossing,” a development that would have preserved several historic properties along East Putnam Ave including 5 Brookridge and develop them into 22 residential units with a pool house and swimming pool. The project ran into issues with Wetlands due to historic flooding issues of the houses by the intersection of Hillside Road, but 5 Brookridge does not share the flooding issues.

As a result, Mr. Franco is optimistic. He noted they are not seeking more FAR than allowed. Nor are they seeking variances.

“This project is the poster project for the 2019 Plan of Conservation and development,” he said. “The POCD calls for adapting and reusing historic buildings. And, we’re not trying to do over-large. Presently we can build 18,000 sq ft on the property and we’re doing less than that.”

As for the Historic Overlay (HO) request, the regulations adopted in 2018 state that the application should “foster a sense of history and civic pride, preserving architectural heritage and protecting community character.”

Certainly, as the application notes, the stretch of the Boston Post Road where the property is located has been of interest to preservationists in Greenwich for decades.

In Greenwich, the Boston Post Road at the turn of the century In Greenwich, in addition to being dotted with small commercial villages such as Cos Cob, it was lined with grand homes on substantial parcels of land, many with sweeping lawns and outbuildings, such as carriage houses, barns, “lodges” and stables.

HO regulations provide incentives for preservation and protection of historic resources. Regarding the Brookridge Crossing project, the regulation states that for properties in the R-20 single-family residential zone, the Planning & Zoning Commission may authorize additional dwelling units in existing buildings or structures and/or in new construction that is complementary and secondary to the historic structures.

Tree Restoration

There is more good news. Mr. Franco said the project includes plans for “significant tree restoration” as well as additional landscaping.

“He took so many trees down. One was a Chestnut and one was a Beech tree,” Mr. Franco said. “I’ll put in mature specimen trees. We will remediate this mess.”

Next Steps? Mr. Franco said his team filed this week under Historic Overlay with the Historic District Commission and with P&Z for a pre-application. He is optimistic that the HDC’s advisory opinion to P&Z will be favorable.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “This project doesn’t have a pool and pool house. And it’s only six two-bedroom units. There are no wetlands and no flooding issues.”

Further he said, “The soil is beautiful to accommodate the septic system. And we’re going to have a lot of open space. It’ll still read like a lot of open space.”

“I’m really excited about the project and I’ve enjoyed doing multi-family in Greenwich because there is a real demand for it,” he continued. “My target market is downsizers.”

Franco said units he developed recently on East Elm Street all sold all to people downsizing.

“I sold all four for the full asking price. I could have sold four more. People want something special, something cool, and they don’t need as much space.”

“This is the best of both worlds because you get the historical elements, but they’ll be beautiful state-of-the-art residences,” he added.

“We’ve notified neighbors, Franco said. “We’re diving in.”

(P&Z Watch: Contract for the Purchase of 5 Brookridge is Off June 21, 2022).

Per the application narrative: “As the stewards of this important historical asset, we have worked to create a project that accomplishes two primary preservation goals. The first goal is to restore, enhance and adaptively re-use and repurpose a ‘grand’ and historic house so that it will become a beautiful, viable small residential community reflecting a specific time in the history of our town and region. Second, our goal is to enhance a important historic streetscape in the heart of Greenwich. This stretch of the Boston Post Road has been of interest to preservationists in Greenwich for decades.”
Trees that were cut down from 5 Brookridge in early November 2021. Photo: Leslie Yager
Photo: Leslie Yager November 2021
Most of the property at 5 Brookridge was clear cut in November 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager