A marathon P&Z meeting on Tuesday started with the municipal Improvement and Site Plan application for two intersection projects on Greenwich Avenue: Arch St/Havemeyer and Grigg/Fawcett.
The applications are being ushered through the approval process by DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel.
At the July 7 P&Z meeting, feedback to Mr. Michel was that the design was too “engineer-ie” and should honor the historic nature of the area, particularly the triangle in front of the historic post office (now home to RH). The entire Avenue is a Historic National Register District.
Since the last meeting, the Greenscape committee, led by architect and Architectural Review Committee chair Richard Hein and landscape architect and ARC vice chair John Conte, made changes to the design.
The committee’s main changes involved a triangle island by a proposed slip lane, or bypass lane. The triangle is now much larger and emphasizes the historic “triangle” and obelisk.
Mr. Michel shared a before-and-after renderings for comparison.
Two parking spaces were eliminated to make turns safer. One was added in front of Richards and one restored in front of the senior center.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said residents have been asking for parking on the Avenue, and she struggled with the removal of the parking space by RH, but Mr. Michel said a car backing out could be hit by a car turning right from the slip lane. Alban suggested by that logic any car backing out of a parking space on Greenwich Ave could back into a car in traffic.
Mr. Hein said the intersection wasn’t symmetrical because originally Arch Street was a fork in the road at Greenwich Ave, and that Havemeyer was “a very minor street.”
“Very few cities have something as beautiful as the plaza in front of the old post office,” Hein said. “We have to treat this as a precious treasure.”
Mr. Conte said the intersection had complex lines, angles and shapes coming together.
“We’re looking at them in a plan view straight down that is not the way you perceive it as a person or driver interacting with that space. You’re not looking at it from 200 ft above,” he said.
He said it was important to minimize vertical elements in order not to compete with vehicles, trees and signage.
Mr. Michel said the majority of the green spaces would be kept low to preserve sight lines.
Asked about planting trees in some of the green bump outs, Mr. Michel said that was not being considered because not only are there already good trees on the lawn of the Havemeyer building, but trees would be in the way of possible historic streetlights and “wayfaring signage.”
Instead of the garden beds along Arch Street at the former post office building that had been referred to as “amoebas,” the new design replicates the tree wells on the other side of the post office building (along Greenwich Ave).
The island by the slip lane (right turn lane from Arch to the Ave) was made larger and mirrors the historic triangle. The crosswalk from the island was widened.
There will be a stop sign leading up to the slip lane, along with the three stop signs at the intersection overall.
Mr. Michel said there was consideration for raising the crosswalk across the slip lane to the island to make it function like a speed hump.
Mr. Michel said there was room for 2 cars to queue down the slip lane onto Arch Street.
“We know that traffic will queue back up on Arch Street. …We’re not trying to speed people through these intersections. Having a little bit of a queue backup isn’t a major concern.”
Commissioner Peter Levy said he had larger issues with the entire intersection design.
He described it as “a little fussy,” with “too much going on.”
“There’s a geometry that’s a little overbearing,” he said. “The asymmetric nature of this intersection – that’s one of the charms of the Avenue.”
He said the existing intersection layout safely dispersed cars and pedestrians.
“The rectangular crosswalk area is bringing all of the traffic together as opposed to being dispersed as it is right now,” he continued.
He said forcing vehicles and pedestrians into a “knuckle” was not a good idea.
“Traffic lights would go a long way for safety here,” he said, referring to ‘lollipop lights’ that would be historic as opposed to lights hanging from overhead.
“The absence of them is going to continue to create confusion,” he said. “I can only point to the Elm Street project which still needs to be figured out. I don’t think it’s as safe for pedestrians and vehicles moving through as it was with a traffic police officer.”
Mr. Michel said the community was not ready for traffic signals.
Mr. Wells asked whether drivers on Greenwich Avenue would get stuck in the middle of the intersection. He said it wasn’t clear who has the right of way.
“Does the person coming down Greenwich wait in the box, or wait until there is an all clear in both the upper and lower crosswalk?”
Mr. Michel said pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks.
“Pedestrians and vehicles have to respect each other. People have to take their turns,” he said. “Without traffic signals to tell people what to do here, that’s what we’re relying on.”
Stephen Bishop, chair of HDC who is on the Greenscape Committee described the changes as a big improvement. Alan Gunzburg from the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities said he was pleased with the new design. “This looks nice. I’m all for it.”
The revised plan at Fawcett Place and Grigg Street still features a “patio” in front of Meli-Melo.
“If I were to take away the patio from in front of Meli-Melo my belief is it is discriminating against them because they would have no alternative location to do outdoor dining compared to every other restaurant on the Avenue,” Mr. Michel said.
He said the parking spots in front of Meli-Melo were being removed for safety reasons because cars turning left out of Fawcett often go straight to the right lane even though they’re not supposed to. He said the intersections was “busier” than others, but he did not have data on crashes.
One parking space was added in front of Richards (359 Greenwich Ave) by shrinking the green planter area.
Bike racks have been added – one on the side of Meli-Melo on Grigg and one in front of Mediterraneo.
David Wold asked for a precise amount of green space being removed from the Havemeyer lawn.
Mr. Michel said the grass was on the town right of way, but said he find out the precise amount.
He said the space (long pink island) separating lanes on Arch Street would not be raised.
Mr. Wold asked if drivers would respect that.
Matt Popp, a landscape architect, said the sight line from Arch St to the Senior Center was lost with the new design, but his main concern was whether the new design was safer. He said the existing angle of the intersection was a de facto traffic calming measure.
He said with the new design, cars coming from Havemeyer to Arch Street would have a sharper turn radius. “I think cars are going to be crossing over the center line to make that turn.”
Next, he said he was concerned that the crosswalks and sidewalks don’t align. “When you walk down Greenwich Ave on the west side you probably won’t use that crosswalk. You’ll probably step into the road. People don’t zig-zag when they walk.”
He said slip lanes in general were very unsafe, and suggested a review by an independent traffic engineer.
Tina Volkwein said, “This whole scheme is attempting to fit the square peg into a triangle hole.”
She said with the many changes being proposed, costs might increase beyond the amount of grant money.
Volkwein said the new green triangle island on Arch Street was unsafe for pedestrians, and questioned why the plan was to remove diagonal spaces on Fawcett, but add them on Arch Street.
“We’re losing sight of the original objectives for this,” she said. “The citizens are increasingly aware, and feel this is being forced down their throats.”
Lastly, Ms Volkwein questioned the need for bike racks. “I haven’t seen anyone on the Avenue, on a bike, except police.”
Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said even though the lawn area to be removed was in the town’s right of way, she was concerned about the roots of the historically significant Copper Beech near the Bolling monument, which was likely planted by Mr. Havemeyer.
She said its roots would be impacted by the widening of the sidewalk.
“That’s a significant piece of lawn and that tree’s roots go into the right of way,” sh esaid.
She said the Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer wanted to walk the property again to determine whether the work would impact the tree.
Former P&Z chair Louisa Stone questioned plans to move the historic district sign outside the Havemeyer building to the pedestrian triangle. She wondered if that would block the sight lines of the obelisk.
She also urged straightening the sidewalk in front of the Havemeyer building, and shared concerns about the precious Copper Beech trees.
Mr. Michel said there was no deadline for the state grant money to be used as long as the project is “moving forward.”
Ms Alban said she would forward a list of questions raised by Mr. Popp and Mr. Wold to Mr. Michel, including amount of green space lost in town right of way, and protection of the Copper Beech.
The applications were left open and will tentatively appear on the agenda of a September P&Z meeting.