Greenwich’s new Planning & Zoning director Patrick LaRow, who has worked in the department since 2007, and was previously the deputy director, addressed the Retired Men’s Association on Wednesday.
LaRow said three current P&Z efforts included formulating a new landscaping regulation (to be considered at the Jan 10 meeting) regarding landscaping and trees on private property, partly in response to clearcutting of trees on private property. In fact, clearcutting was brought up by attendees at the talk.
Second, a greenscape initiative along Route 1, and third, a regulation expanding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
LaRow summarized some trends impacting P&Z since the pandemic, including the influx of New Yorkers to Greenwich, resulting in an “abrupt and ferocious construction boom,” including many new pools and decks, and investment into residential homes.
He talked about the decrease in train ridership to New York City and the increase in remote work, which in turn triggered an increase in demand for services, including Uber and food deliveries.
LaRow said executive orders issued during the pandemic created a “new reality” that was “born out of necessity to keep businesses open,” and lead to outdoor dining inside “nodes” in parking spaces on Greenwich Ave.
He said the text amendment recently passed by the commission, was a “revamped outdoor dining policy” that replaced the executive order that let restaurateurs have a “scattershot control of having seating outside with not as much regulation and control as we’d been used to in town.”
“What we come to realize is having restaurants have no limits on the number of seats they have, except the space they have to put seating in, is probably not the best look for the town or the most effective use of the downtown, as well as Old Greenwich and other commercial centers.”
The new rules about street dining impact lighting, restriction on amplified music, cleanliness, ADA access.
Touching on ADUs, LaRow said the town already allowed them in certain situations. ADUs, also known as “in law suites” or hidden housing – are encouraged for affordability for persons over 62 and people with disabilities in single family zones.
LaRow said when the state passed a bill that would allow ADUs in any zone, in any town, Greenwich’s RTM voted to opt out of modifying the town’s existing reg. From there, there was a moratorium, and now, LaRow said P&Z is investigating alternatives.
“We’re going to come out with new regulations hopefully in the first half of the year that would provide for this housing, but in a scale and size and design that is more in keeping with goals of Greenwich.”
Leaf Blowers and the Noise
During Q&A there were some interesting questions, including one about enforcing the noise ordinance, particularly in relation to gas powered leaf blowers.
Ms Alban said the noise ordinance was under the purview of the Health Dept and the RTM.
“Honestly, there’s not enough enforcement of what’s already there. You are only supposed to use one leafblower on any property that is less than 1/4 acre, and I’m not seeing that enforced,” Alban said. “Before the RTM changes the regulations again we need to figure out what you’re going to do to make it work.”
“Do you make people go to all electric or restrict how many blowers? It’s the RTM and the Health Dept, but I like the idea a lot,” Alban said.
8-30g CT’s affordable housing statute
Someone brought up the proposed 8-30g development at Pemberwick and Comly Avenues. (The pre-application is on the P&Z agenda for Jan 10. Prior to that RTM district 9 is having a special meeting Thursday, Jan 5 at 7:30pm to discuss the application.)
LaRow said the Pemberwick 8-30g was only a pre-application at this point. The idea of a pre-application is to give guidance in a non-biding discussion prior to the applicant submitting a site plan for review.
“They have a number of issues on the site including wetlands and other concerns,” LaRow said. “It will go through a bevvy of municipal agencies before anyone has a sense of direction of the final development.”
Another question concerned projected school enrollment. Someone from the audience noted that if Greenwich fulfills the state requirement to have 10% of its housing stock be “affordable,” that would result in a lot of new housing overall. he asked whether the town had done demographic analysis.
Ms Alban said school enrollment was difficult to anticipate, and that while many new families who relocated to Greenwich during the pandemic had toddlers, it remained to be seen whether those children will attend Greenwich Schools.
“We do track it and are following it, particularly as regards our needs for affordable housing.”
But, she said there was also the issue of “the missing middle,” which she described as young families who are doing well and have solid jobs, but still cannot afford to buy homes in Greenwich. “How do we address that need?”
Mr. LaRow said the town collected data on school age children, but it was notoriously fickle and incorrect.
He said for the town to achieve 10% affordability would require 1,200 new units, and if they were all created exclusively under 8-30g (with 30% of units affordable) it would result in a total of 6,000 units.
LaRow said a person earning $90,000 in salary as a town employee, for example, could not afford a house at the median sale price of $2 million.
An attendee asked about complaints about an increase in vermin in relation to the explosion in outdoor dining. Mr. LaRow said P&Z had received increased complaints in the past two years.
“A lot of that is responsibility on the operators and there’s much more seats outside than there ever were under the prior ordinances, and nor will there be in the future,” he said. “Hopefully by right-sizing it, we’re going to hit the right balance and not have it as a nuisance issue any more.”
Ms Alban said New York City just hired a “rat czar” and Greenwich took note.
A question about ADUs was whether P&Z would consider allowing them in the R6 zone, which does allow two-family homes. He said there were many single family homes in R6 that are either not appropriate to be two-family homes or have been denied conversion to two-family.
“We’re looking at that. That’s a great point…now. We’ve heard that a lot,” LaRow said.
Rockefeller Property on Glenville Road
A realtor in the audience asked about a Rockefeller property for sale on Glenville Road.
“The property has been known as ‘Indian Spring,’ and it’s been in the Rockefeller hands for over a century. They just came in for a resubdivision,” LaRow said, adding that 70 acres was split and a property owner in the neighborhood purchased part of it.
“The leftover 50 acres is what you’re seeing on the market. We’ve been contacted about a development potential there,” he added. “The town is very interested in getting land out of there because it is critical open space and it’s a huge opportunity. I believe the First Selectman’s office and the Greenwich Land Trust are looking to speak to the property owners there.”
A Riverside resident said there were two very large lots that had been clear cut and asked what the regulations were.
“Currently, now it’s one tree that’s required to be kept,” Mr. LaRow said. “Our new regulations (that) we’re considering would prevent that and require replacement if that were to occur…The new regulations would probably prevent that.”
Ms Alban said the State of Connecticut was reluctant to step on private property rights.
“In New York state, if you want to cut a tree down on your own property, you go to the tree warden,” she said, adding that the Greenscape Committee and the Tree Conservancy had been trying to pursue a tree ordinance at the state level.
“It’s outside P&Z’s scope,” she said.