Planning & Zoning Commission Votes 4-1 to Approve New Central Middle School

Tuesday night’s 6+ hour Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission meeting culminated in a vote to approve the Central Middle School application for final site plan an special permit to replace the existing school at 9 Indian Rock Lane in Cos Cob.

The building, which was condemned and then reopened after being shored up in 2022 – then briefly closed after an earthquake in April and reopened – dates to 1958. Related site improvement include a grass field, vehicular access and parking areas. The school property is 22-acres in the R12 residential zone.

Last month Greenwich’s House delegation announced they had been able to secure a reimbursement of 20% for the $112 million, a percentage that exceeded expectations.

P&Z’s hands have been tied to some extent because per the town charter, they were required to strictly adhere to the ed specs.

And, as Steph Cowie from the building committee said on Tuesday, “Public school construction is a state-driven process and unique to the private school process.”

At the outset, architect Steve Martocchio from SLAM Collaborative, explained that two outstanding Dept of Public Works issues had been resolved since the previous meeting: location of a sidewalk and details of a crosswalk by Orchard Street.

The issue had been DPW’s concern that a student walking north on Orchard, approaching the Indian Rock intersection, did not have direct walking path to the main entrance of the school that did not require crossing the driveway.

Numerous students in Cos Cob walk to the middle school.

Also, there are families in homes on the other side of Orchard Street who are impacted by speeding cars. In fact, one speeding car plowed through the front door of one family’s home at 219 Orchard.

Martocchio said the building committee received DPW sign off on the placement of an internal sidewalk on the campus rather than along Orchard Street.

Also, he said plans were approved for a short sidewalk in front of the the houses across the street on Orchard that connect them to a crosswalk and the school property.

Martocchio also shared plans for a textured strip in the median, and additional traffic calming measures on Orchard.

Ms Alban commended the building committee on a “very thorough job.”

However, she noted the commission had wanted the building committee to return to the Architectural Review Committee to address design issues raised there. The ARC is advisory to P&Z.

“The ARC was disappointed that when you got there, you were so far down the path, that you were not receptive to changes,” Alban said. “That was a disappointment for the ARC and a disappointment for us. We created this group in 1986 to help yield great designs for the town. And essentially they are bypassed by this.”

Commissioner Peter Levy said the proposed design “did not give a classical sense of pride in public buildings.”

“I think the ARC addressed these things,” he said.


Alban said the two considerations they would like the building committee to return to ARC to discuss concerned the coloring of the “two browns” on the top of the building and the building’s awning.

Beyond that, she said the commission would expect to hear from the building committee immediately should any contamination be discovered, though the application indicated the site was clean.

Alban said the commission hoped there would be camera enforcement to ticket speeding cars around CMS, and noted that a bill recently passed in Hartford to allow towns to better enforce the law about passing stopped school buses.

“When a school bus is stopped, if a car passes it, there is a camera mounted on the bus and you immediately ticket the offender,” Alban said, adding that she would forward the new state law to the building committee.

Alban said locating the building on the site of the existing fields was “environmentally sub-optimal.”

“We understand it is being done to ensure that the present school continues to operate and the children do not have to be relocated,” she said.

Also, Alban said, “You are doing significant cut-and-fill, you are taking down trees, and you’re working in a low, wet spot that requires the building to be waterproofed. It would not have to be waterproofed if it was in the existing location. The waterproofing isn’t cheap.”

Around 10:00pm the commission finished their agenda items and returned to the application for a discussion and vote.

Again Mr. Levy brought up the architectural issues.

He said traditionally, municipal buildings have “had a special presence and create a sense of place.”

“There is a vital opportunity to create a particularly well designed building,” he said. “It’s important that we are consistent on these matters and talk about these as things that are important to us, regardless of whether we have control over them or not.”

The motion mentioned that both ARC and the P&Z were disappointed the building committee appeared before ARC late in the process and had not been receptive to design input.

Mr. Levy referred to the design as “fashionable” as opposed to “tried-and-true.”

“That concerns me because the sensibility of being outdated is something you don’t want to be trapped by,” he said. “The unfortunate bit about not preserving more of the landscape is troubling because we care about preserving our natural landscape.”

“Unfortunately the tree warden is state law and overrides us on tree removal,” Ms Alban said.

The tree warden approved the removal of 188 trees, many in a large rock outcropping.

“Yes, but we can still remark that in our POCD these are things that concern us,” Levy said. “When there are competing interests, what we feel is important, it’s important to mention these things.”

“When a town like ours has an opportunity to build such a building, you have a great opportunity to make a statement about the town and create an edifice we can all be proud of and respect,” Levy said.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban read a lengthy motion, which noted that current school capacity is 734 students. Current enrollment is 511. The proposed building would accommodate 660 students. Onsite vehicle parking would be increased from 98 to 122 spaces. Queuing capacity for drop off and pick in the main entry drive would be increased.

There were several whereas clauses in the motion including that access to the north side of the proposed building would be provided via a dedicated emergency service path. This access to the building was accepted by the Fire Marshal who has also endorsed the proposed plan.

The site plan addresses the resultant safety and circulation issues by altering points of ingress and egress and separating personal vehicle from bus traffic. The bus loop will be gate controlled during school hours to ensure the separation.

The motion noted that the Conservation Dept commented on Jan 24, 2024 that the structure as proposed will involve substantial cut and fill as it is being placed in an area which is currently wooded, has steep slopes and a high-water table.

“The Commission agrees the placement of the building is environmentally sub-optimal although it recognizes this location is intrinsically mandated by the Board of Education Specifications.”

Also, the motion noted that on April 25, 2024, Greenwich Chief of Police Heavey wrote in support of the proposal to completely remove the rock outcropping which faces the main entrance of the existing school building.

Although the application was submitted prior to the revision in the lighting regulations, the commission requested that the site comply with the dark sky objectives these regulations contain, subject to safety considerations.

The vote was 4-1 with commissioner Peter Levy opposing the application for reasons having to do with its design and disregard of feedback from the Architectural Review Committee.

Those voting in favor were Ms Alban, Nick Macri, Arn Welles and Anne Noel Jones. Peter Levy voted no.