The July Parks & Rec board agenda included a recent proposal for use of Pomerance Park in Cos Cob during construction of a new Central Middle School – whether it be for the school, its playing fields or just for parking.
Pomerance Park has an entrance on Orchard Street, just around the corner from CMS at 9 Indian Rock Lane. It includes over 100 acres of wooded trails and waterways. The property was donated to the Town of Greenwich in 2002.
The idea of using the park had been broached at a recent CMS building committee meeting by non-voting member Michael Spilo, who said it was important to explore potential cost savings of alternate siting options.
The building committee’s plan that recently went before the Planning & Zoning commission, is for the children to remain in the existing building while the new one is constructed at the north end of the property. That means cutting into a wooded area and creating a driveway long enough for 60 parent cars to queue.
While the building committee voted 7-1 against Mr. Spilo’s motion, the Parks & Rec board discussed the concept anyway, because there might be a different “ask” in future.
For now, Parks & Rec chair Scott Johnson listed multiple reasons considering the park for a school use was a nonstarter, including that disturbing the park wouldn’t reconcile with the open space plan the Parks & Rec board had approved. Nor would it dovetail with the parks master plan, which he said carried “significant weight.” And lastly, if no other reason, there are issues with flood control, and the fact that Pomerance is a historic park with century old Pin Oak trees.
“These are parks and generally to be forever preserved, and any development of any kind … has to be reviewed and approved to be consistent with the master plan or with the initiative of keeping parks open space,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Twenty ago when there was a proposal for Tuchman-Pomerance that went to the RTM, they said, ‘Let’s get that, so we could build artificial turf fields,'” he recalled, adding that he was being considered for the board at that time, and had explained that while he valued parks for recreation, the Pomerance property was historic.
Mr. Johnson noted the First Selectman Fred Camillo and Planning & Zoning had asked for feedback from the board, and asked for other board member’s thoughts.
“The concept came when a member of the building committee called me the day before the meeting and said, ‘Do you have any documents that can support this?'” Siciliano said, adding that in addition to the reasons Mr. Johnson listed, there were Wetlands issues on the property.
He talked about the amount of disturbance that would be entailed, even for a temporary school use.
“We’re talking about room for room for 500 students. If you took one of those portable classrooms and do the math you’re talking about 50 portable units. Where would you put that? They’re talking about clearing space. And they have to have on-site parking.”
Mr. Siciliano noted that even temporary modular classrooms would have to meet the ed specs.
“The meeting went through, the next morning it was voted down 7-1, the conversation kind of ended and at the next Board of Selectmen meeting Fred (Camillo) made the statement that there are better alternatives than using a park property in a highly dense area in town, which Cos Cob is, than to dismantle it and put up portable units when there is a viable plan to do the ‘flip-flop’ kind of thing (allow the children to stay in the existing building while the new one is constructed adjacent).”
“I don’t know if there’s anything to vote on, but maybe it’s just reflected in the minutes that the board has something to say about this, that if this were ever to get some traction, it has to go to both Parks & Recreation and Planning & Zoning – and it has to go to Wetlands.”
Board member Matt Popp said, “I can see them saying that they want to use that park for parking because it’s going to be a tough construction site.”
Mr. Siciliano noted there are wetlands near the Orchard Street entrance to the park and only 20 parking spaces.
“If we were going to do some sort of mixed parking, we’d want to set aside public parking,” he added.
“It’s always full,” said board member Tracy Freedman.
“Every ‘ask’ should be reviewed and we should vote on it to approve it,” Siciliano said. “It does require a permit in addition to Parks & Rec regulations.”
“Let’s see what the ask is. If it’s for (parking for) five cars, that might be doable. If we’re talking about 20 cars, then we’re talking about forcing the park users to park in the road,” Siciliano said.
“It’s not a ‘No.’ It’s, ‘How would we coordinate it to make it work?'” he added.