Owners of 5 Brookridge Initiate Lawsuit after Neighbors Seek to Rezone it from R-20 to RA-1

At the Aug 1 Planning & Zoning commission meeting Chris Franco and his team presented a new plan for 5 Brookridge Drive that would restore the 123-year old house, re-purpose it, and preserve it in perpetuity with additions to create a total of 6 condominium units.

The property would be serviced by a new six-unit, 12-bedroom septic system that Mr. Franco said had been approved by the Town of Greenwich.

The project is being submitted under Greenwich’s Historic Overlay Zoning regulations, and is not required to include below market rate units.

The 1.7 acre property is in the R-20 zone.

At that meeting, an adjacent neighbor, Susan Meyers of 9 Brookridge, said a longstanding deed restriction limited what Mr. Franco could build to a single-family home.

Along with Don Hamilton (14 Brookridge) and Sandra Heath (10 Brookridge), Ms Meyers has since that meeting submitted her own application to P&Z to rezone to rezone 5 Brookridge Drive, (515 East Putnam Ave), from RA-1 to R-20. She likewise proposes to rezone 7 Hillside Rd, 3 Hillside Rd, 505 and 509 East Putnam Ave.

• RA-1 is One-Acre Residential Zone.

• R-20 is Single Family Residence, 20,000 square feet.

The house at 5 Brookridge 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.

The commission reviewed the new proposal from Mr. Franco, who has numerous adaptive reuse projects in Greenwich under his belt.

They requested he work with the Historic District Commission to seek a Certificate of Appropriateness.

Rendering presented at August 1 Greenwich Planning & Zoning meeting.
5 Brookridge has distinctive Tudor elements.
Photographed prior to a 2021 clear cutting by a prior contract purchaser, 5 Brookridge is a 2-½ story Colonial Revival leaning to the romantic style, with distinctive Tudor elements, including half-timbering on the upper gables. Photo: Leslie Yager

Mr. Franco noted that a previous applicant, a contract purchaser of his property, had sought to develop 5 Brookridge under the state affordable housing statute 8-30g, with a 5 story 86-unit building. In anticipation of approval the contract purchaser, clearcut the lot of trees.

But that contract failed to close and the application was withdrawn.

During public comment at the Aug 1 meeting Jenny Larkin who owns a historic home further along the streetscape at 1 Hillside Road, spoke in favor of the proposal. She noted the deed restrictions did nothing to protect historic properties from being torn down. For example, she said her house could be torn down and replaced with a 13,000 sq ft single family house.

Mr. Franco said that incentives for historic preservation did include the potential for multiple units, but a second incentive is an additional 15% FAR, which he was not seeking.

But the adjacent neighbor to the north, Susan Meyers, of 9 Brookridge, claimed there was a deed restriction preventing Mr. Franco from building more than a single family house. She said while typically granting Historic Overlay in Greenwich was “a win,” 5 Brookridge was not, and was bound by a 100-year old deed restriction, that she said was cleverly created to preserve the historic integrity of this property, as well as its three neighbors to the west on the Post Road. Ms Meyers added that the original developer anticipated pressures on development along Rte 1 and created the deed restriction long before local zoning came into existence.

“If Mr. Franco chooses to pursue anything other than a single family home restoration for this property, and violate his deed restriction, those of us who are bound by the restriction will not hesitate to once again file a lawsuit in Stamford Superior Court to enforce it,” Ms Meyers said, adding there was noting preventing Mr. Franco from restoring the single family house, which was what a neighbor at 505 East Putnam had recently done.

In addition to Ms Meyers, Don Hamilton of 14 Brookridge, said the deed restriction was in force and had been since 1907.

The P&Z commission noted it was not their jurisdiction to enforce a deed restriction, and told the two parties to work it out themselves.

He explained that the deed restriction talked about one dwelling, which he was proposing. He explained that he was proposing a single building with an addition to abide by the three deed restrictions.

“One says it should be used for residential, not commercial purposes. The second sets forth setbacks from the roads, which we are complying with. The third says we can have ‘a single dwelling house.’ It doesn’t say ‘single family residence.’”

“It’s well established law in the state of Connecticut that a dwelling house can have multiple residences and units within it,” he added.

While the commission asked Mr. Franco to work with HDC on a Certificate of Appropriateness, Ms Meyers talked about going to court.

Since then she has submitted her own application to the the commission to rezone 5 Brookridge Drive and Hillside and East Putnam Ave properties. She refers to 5 Brookridge as 515 East Putnam Ave.

In her narrative Ms Meyers says “Ever since the zoning was changed from RA-1 to R-20 at 7 Hillside Road, 3 Hillside Road and 505, 509, and 515 East Putnam Ave in the early 1970s, the new R-20 zone designation has misled potential buyers/developers as to what is possible for these properties and resulted in countless time wasted by the town’s Planning & Zoning commission and its tax-paying residents.”

She said her proposal was to return the properties to RA-1 zoning to better reflect the true limitations of the lots.

Meyers said that back in the early 1970s “the entire neighborhood had opposed” the rezone of the above properties from RA-1 to R-20, and that ever since, “unsuitable” projects had been proposed.

Her narrative includes a list with one proposal in1971 and three in the 1980’s including Pathways in 1987 at 509 East Putnam Ave, Greenwich Reform Synagogue in 1988 at 3 Hillside Rd.

Her narrative concludes, “A simple re-zone back to RA-1 would reflect the unique limitations of these properties, the original neighborhood development that they have been a part of since 1905; and would also help protect the natural and historic resources of the town and preserve open space at the gateway to Greenwich.”

Response: Lawsuit by owners of 515 E Putnam, aka 5 Brookridge

Last week Mr. Franco said he and 515 E Putnam LLC, as owners of 515 E Putnam Avenue (a/k/a 5 Brookridge Drive) initiated a lawsuit against Susan Meyers, Donald Hamilton and Sandra Heath, whom they said took an unprecedented action when they filed their application with the Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission, seeking to rezone the property from its present R-20 zone to the more restrictive RA-1 zone.

“To be clear, Ms. Meyers, Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Heath have no interest in our property, and we have not authorized or consented to the filing to rezone our property,” Mr. Franco said in an email.

“In the application Ms. Meyers, Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Heath made serious misstatements about our property, which were also made at the August 1, 2023 P&Z hearing regarding our future plans for the property.  Those plans include the restoration, adaptive reuse, and expansion of the historic house on the property, and the remediation of the tragic loss of the trees there, which were clear cut by an unrelated developer who was seeking to build an 86-unit apartment complex on the property.  Misstatements regarding me and my work were also made at the P&Z meeting.”

Mr. Franco said his team would have preferred not to file the lawsuit, and would have preferred to proceed with the proposed historical restoration and adaptive reuse of the property without controversy. 

“We are excited about our project and confident that it will be a beautiful and much-loved addition to the neighborhood, like the many award-winning projects we have done in other parts of Greenwich,” he added.

However, Mr. Franco continued, “Ms. Meyers has pledged to file a lawsuit to attempt to block our beautiful project, like she and several neighbors attempted to do (unsuccessfully) back in 1998 with the Pathways group home, across the street from our property.  Further, Ms. Meyers, Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Heath filed the rezoning application for our property, without consulting with us and without our consent.  We believe we have no choice but to defend our property and our current R-20 zoning, and by filing this lawsuit we are also seeking to clear up misinformation regarding 120-year-old deed restrictions related to the property, and seek accountability from Ms. Meyers, Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Heath for their actions.”

See also:

5 Brookridge Neighbor Claims Deed Restriction Limits Development to a Single Family House Aug 2, 2023

New Proposal for 5 Brookridge Would Restore and Preserve Historic House, Create 6 Condos June 19, 2023

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

86-Unit, Five Story Affordable Housing Development Proposed for 5 Brookridge, at Corner of East Putnam Ave Dec 1, 2021