P&Z Balks at CNG Industrial Use in WB Zone on Byram River

Connecticut Natural Gas Company presented a pre-application Tuesday night to the Planning & Zoning commission for a Greenwich base at 112 South Water Street in Byram.

View of Ebb Tide along the Byram River in Connecticut from the Costco parking lot in Port Chester, NY.
View of Ebb Tide along the Byram River in Connecticut from the Costco parking lot in Port Chester, NY.

The gas utility company’s lease on Old Track Road is expiring and they have to leave in a month. The applicants said they had searched unsuccessfully for a year and a half for a viable location in Greenwich.

Specifically, CNG seeks a letter of zoning compliance stating the intended use would be allowed, but the commission balked at the idea of creating a non conformity in a zone they’ve been trying to beautify for several years.

The .86 acre property is in the Waterfront Business (WB) zone, which does not allow industrial use.

While CNG said the marina use would continue, with 21 in-water slips maintained and rented out to the existing marine customers, the land would no longer store boats. Instead, that area would instead be used by CNG for parking.

“Our proposal is to take the Ebb Tide Marina and turn it into a regional operations facility while preserving the existing private marina,” said attorney Stephanie Stich for CNG.

Plans include renovations and upgrades to the existing building, and the addition of a new 30 x 60 building.

The office use would be for two to four managers. The warehouse use would be for storage of tools and supplies.

CNG said their greatest need was for parking for gas leak detecting cars, utility vans, dump trucks and equipment including backhoes.

Rendering shows proposed vehicle and equipment parking, an existing two-story 1,658 sq ft building, and outline of a proposed 30 x 60 building.

There would be exterior lighting on site because the utility operates 24 hours for emergencies.

The applicants said the existing chain link fence and gate would be replaced with something more attractive. Also, they said they would repair the failing bulkhead, keep the existing fuel dock, and remove the existing truck scale from when the site was once a gravel quarry.

Ms Stich said the location was the “best and only option” and CNG had no back up plan.

“If CNG doesn’t get this area in Greenwich, they’ll have to respond to emergencies all the way from East Hartford, which could take up to two hours,” said attorney Stich, adding that the utility had a requirement by law to provide a 20 minute response in town.

The property is currently home to Ebb Tide, which runs the marina and boat rental, and sells bait & tackle and gasoline fuel. They also offer dry dock and rack storage for boats.

As for the mandated 20 minute response time within Greenwich, the commissioners suggested a more centralized location would be better than South Water Street, which is in the western most part of town.

Ms Stich said CNG would improve the site, which she described as “an eyesore.”

As for the location being in a FEMA flood zone, she said, “You can rest assured, assured in past five years there have been no floods on the property.”

P&Z Chair Margarita Alban said it was irrelevant when the last flood was.

“We can’t go to FEMA and tell them there haven’t been any floods recently,” Alban said.

Alban said the commission’s main concern was that the property was in the WB Zone, where industrial use is not allowed.

And if the nonconforming use were to be approved, a precedent would be set.

“Do you have the ability to override our zoning for some reason?” she asked.

“CNG is ultimately approved by the state and we have spoken to the Siting Council and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, and they have no objection to the site, but we want to go through the normal P&Z process and be good neighbors,” Stich said.

“You’re saying that if we deny it you could still do it? Let’s put the cards on the table,” Alban said.

“I believe we would be able to go to the state under a hardship application,” Stich replied.

Ms Alban explained that in recent years the town had worked to make the area more consistent with the way it’s zoned.

“You’re taking a step in the right direction, which is you are keeping the marina, but you are still adding an industrial use that would not be allowed in the zone.”

In recent years the town has created pocket parks and public access walkways along the Byram River, and Alban said if the application were to be approved, the town would want public access and a walkway along the water, as well as some unobstructed water views.

Ms Alban said that while CNG was under the purview of PURA and the state’s Siting Council, there were also relevant state environmental and coastal laws.

“There is state law that protects coastal and waterfront resources,” Alban said. “I’m not clear that you could override.”

“We believe that we can,” Stich said.

Ms Alban said Greenwich would seek a legal opinion. She noted the WB Zone was not a town regulation, but rather one created by state law.

The water based business zone is a state law,” she said. “Second, you have the flood overlay zone here, which is federal. I’d like to see an opinion from your lawyers on how you override state and federal law.”

Further, Alban said Greenwich could go to the Siting Council as an intervener.

“We have to preserve the water views under state laws,” she said.

“It’ll be a much nicer location visually. Now it’s kind of an eyesore,” Stich said.

“We looked at the site as as a positive for the neighborhood, because instead of all the boats stacked up that everyone has to look at, we could beautify the parking area at bit, and make it a little more green in the front,” said Jeffrey Laydon of Laydon Industries, representing CNG.

“I take a different view I don’t see it the way you do,” said commissioner Peter Levy. “It seems there would be better locations.”

“I felt I heard you saying this was not an attractive part of town and therefore it would be okay with you going in there,” Alban said. “We’ve been working on a program with the residents in the neighborhood, consistent with long range plan, planting trees and working on beautification, and trying to upgrade the waterfront zone. We don’t see it as a candidate for an industrial use or for something consistent with our zoning.”

During public comment, Al Shehadi, chair of the land use committee for the Byram Neighborhood Association said that while the proposal was “imperfect,” his group was willing to work with the applicant.

“The WB zone is not a perfect fit for Byram, and there is not a long line of uses and developers with the perfect community-facing (proposal) that meets WB and fits in the flood zone,” Shehadi said, adding that the community’s goal was to have waterfront access and ultimately a walkway as far along the river as possible.

The commission and P&Z director offered to help the applicant find another location, perhaps one more centrally located.

Ross Disbennett, CNG’s operations manager in Greenwich, said he would work with P&Z director Katie DeLuca on possible alternate locations.

“We have 31 employees in Greenwich who need to park. We don’t want to put their vehicles on the street,” he said, adding that they had looked at locations in Stamford as well as Greenwich, and would like to stay in Greenwich.

Stay tuned…