The highlight of Tuesday’s P&Z commission meeting was a pre-application for an affordable housing development at 200 Pemberwick Rd and 0 Comly Ave.
Over 160 people attended via Zoom, and the commission chair Margarita Alban noted that if the meeting had been in person, it would have exceeded the meeting room capacity at town hall.
Dozens of residents waited for a turn to share concerns about the proposal.
During the previous day’s staff briefing, P&Z director Patrick LaRow said there was a misperception in the community that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund had “endorsed” the proposal. He said that was not true.
Another clarification: At last weeks’ District 9 meeting the applicant referred to the project as providing “workforce housing,” but the application is not being submitted under the town’s moderate income or “workforce housing” regulation. It is being submitted under CT statute 8-30g.
There are two types of 8-30g projects. One is to set aside 30% of units as affordable. The other is “government assisted,” which can be at 80% of Area Median Income, instead of State Median Income. The difference is key because AMI is higher. In Greenwich, even well paid teachers, nurses and emergency services workers can’t afford to live or rent in town.
The proposal decreased from a proposed 386 units total down to 220 after discussions with the trust fund.
P&Z Commissioner Bob Barolak, who leads the Affordable Housing Trust, recused himself from the application.
Real estate developer Brent Carrier gave a quick overview of the project, noting there are two parcels separated by the Byram River. The 2-story office building and fitness center are on a two-acre parcel on the east side. On the west side of the river is a 3.5 acre parking lot, plus some conservation land.
The proposal is to leave existing office tenants in place, and let leases expire over time. Mr. Carrier said the Cedar School has seven years left on its lease. “We’d love to incubate them,” he said.
He said with the affordable component, rent for a 2 bedroom would be approximately $3,000 versus a market rate rent of close to $5,000, and a three-bedroom unit would rent for roughly $3,600 whereas market rate would be closer to $8,500.
The parking at grade and underground would accommodate 440 cars.
Commissioners shared concerns, starting with Mr. Yeskey who asked about sewers. The property is within the town sewer boundaries. Mr. Carrier said there was an 18-inch pipe on Comly Ave they would like to tie into, but the consulting work was not yet complete.
“As a back up we looked at an on-site treatment plant,” he said. “Right now it looks like these units and the plumbing fixtures will fit within the flow capacity of the system.”
Carrier said a single family residence had been removed from the parking lot area in the 1980s and testing had been done to a level of 24 feet. On the west side of the lot, he said they hit rock as little as 9 ft below surface.
“We’ve run into projects where the intent was to build parking below grade, but they ran immediately into rock, and it gets expensive and that changes the economics of the project,” Mr. Yeskey cautioned.
“Also, we’ve had projects that haven’t been able to do their parking below grade because of high water table,” Ms Alban said. “This could be an issue with this application.”
Ms Alban said the commission was concerned that the area had a history of flooding. “It’s not just the neighbors,” she said.
“We believe we’re not creating more of a flooding or water hazard,” Mr. Carrier said. “We’re not contributing to any environmental contamination. Our traffic, with the plan coming through Comly, we believe can work well.”
He added that there was a willingness to work with the town to facilitate pedestrian access to Pemberwick Park from the neighborhood.
“We’d be very open with working with the town. We’re also looking to opening up the conservation land in the back of this site for access…we’re trying to make it more usable,” Carrier said.
There is a dam not far north of the property that dates back to the 1800s that is not owned by the applicant.
Mr. Larow said First Selectman Camillo and DPW were organizing an inspection.
“The town is undertaking the expense to get the dam inspected as required on a bi-annual basis by the state,” LaRow said.
“After Katrina there has been a huge amount of concern about doing affordable housing where people can be flooded. That has not been codified in the state of CT,” Ms Alban said. “Second, the state is very concerned about riverine and reducing impervious near rivers.”
During public comment, Ian Iagowitz testified that he was the court-appointed receiver for the property at 200 Pemberwick road, which he said was put into a foreclosure action.
“I’ve not consented to an application yet. As a matter of fact, it had never been brought to my attention until one of the tenants in the building notified me that there was a pending application in place.”
He said unless the property owner paid off the mortgage and takes the property out of receivership, the application would require his consent and signature.
“I don’t believe that under the court order anybody else has the right to apply for this. I’ve taken that under legal advice,” Mr. Iagowitz said.
LaRow said if Mr. Carrier believed he had authority to present the application, “we’ll need a judge to clarify that.”
“Should we be discussing this if another party needs to consent to it?” commissioner Nick Macri asked.
“Otherwise we’re wasting our time,” commissioner Peter Levy said.
“It would be up to a judge to decide if anything going on here would be damaging the assets related to the bankruptcy,” Mr. LaRow said.
Mr. Carrier said he believed Mr. Iagowitz’s concerns were greatly overstated.
“I did send a letter to Mr. Iagowitz’s counsel and copied the town on this,” Mr. Carrier explained. “I don’t believe we’re wasting the town’s time and we do intend to proceed with this application.”
Patricia Adams talked about environmental justice in western Greenwich. She said while affordable housing was an admirable goal, it was “not an excuse to endanger more people living directly, without a setback, next to the river.”
“I’m watching the news in California with people having atmospheric rivers on top of them and being evacuated by helicopters and boats as they watch their homes and lives be destroyed. This is not a nightmare that is unfamiliar to us in the Pemberwick-Glenville area,” Adams said. “In Sept 2021, we had 9 inches of rain in a five-hour period, which is massive and led to thousands, if not millions of dollars in damage and flood insurance premiums to people who live along the river and along the road. …In 1958 we had homes washed off their foundations and floating down the Byram River. Flooding issues are not new to this area. So why should we encourage more people to live along a river that has a history of five 100-year storms in a 75-year period?”
“C Adams,” a Greenwich High School student who walks a half a mile to her bus stop at Comly and Pemberwick, described her walk as treacherous under exiting conditions. She noted there is no sidewalk along Pemberwick and no crosswalk at the intersection. “Major infrastructure updates would be necessary before a housing development of this size could be safely established.”
Jeff Walsh, an uphill resident on Pemberwick Rd, talked about contamination.
“You mentioned, lead, and mercury. The other concerns are asbestos and PCBs, which can leach under these mills. The mill has been in place for all those years. Most likely the parking lot and the properties themselves have been encapsulated with all these cancer-causing agents in the area.”
Further, Mr. Walsh said, “You’ll encounter water table as you start digging. That will lead to flooding of that river as well.”
Jim Keogh agreed, and was concerned that construction below ground would alter the water table and worsen downstream flooding issues.
“In addition, when the below ground parking does flood, where do those 440 cars go?” Keogh asked. “The surrounding neighborhoods do not have sufficient street parking.”
Mr. Keogh said the fitness center in the building closest to the waterfall gets gets several inches of water after heavy rain.
Andrea Blume, head of the Pemberwick-Glenville Association, said the flood maps are anticipated to change in January. “If you think you’re not in a flood zone now, or in a 500-year flood zone, everyone is going to be in different flood zones going forward.”
Ms Blume noted that previous proposals for the property had been much smaller, and there would be a significant impact on what she described as an “aged and strained sewage system.”
Further she said mature trees would be removed, with the exception of the small conservation easement in the corner of the property, and she hoped the Tree Conservancy would get involved.
Ms Blume said the upstream dam had been categorized as a Level C Hazard dam, per DEEP, and has not been inspected since 2012.
As for the retaining wall, she said, “It is almost 100 years old and is showing signs of failure…It’s basically holding up Pemberwick Road. If that dam fails, it will bring down that wall with it.”
Former State Rep for the 149th district, Kimberly Fiorello noted that many town workers and first responders already live in the adjacent neighborhood.
“This development will change and hurt their home values,” she said, noting the irony.
Fiorello called the project “the poster child for what 8-30g does, and how much harm it creates in a community.”
“I don’t know if mental health is calculated under public health, but there is a real sense of peace of mind that will be disturbed when the nature, the environment and the sight lines this community enjoys will be changed,” Fiorello said.
Steve Silverman expressed concern about health add safety impacts to residents given the amount of earth removal that will be necessary.
He said having built his own small house adjacent to the project, his plans had to be altered due to the amount of ledge that could not be removed.
“This will require massive amounts of explosives. If we’re going to be studying the integrity of the dam on its own, we have to accommodate that we’ll be using pile drivers and explosives to blow away that entire hillside,” Silverman said.
He described 30-40 ton trucks moving in and out to move material.
“We’re going to have a parade of heavy trucks: Dump trucks going out, cement trucks coming in,” he continued. “We’re all going to be deaf by the time this project is over. There is no way you can do it quietly. There is no way, year upon year, every single resident within earshot is going to be suffering from headaches and hearing loss.”
Silverman also said there were underground streams on his property that would be disturbed. “I can’t imagine, since this property is adjacent, that they don’t have underground streams too.”
Lastly, he said he anticipated a completion bond would be required.
“Once they blow up that whole hillside, and because we’ve seen countless projects in Greenwich when that happens, they take way longer and blow through their budgets, and suddenly they run out of money, we’re going to have a moonscape there, with serious erosion problems and it won’t be completed because they’ve walked away from the project because they went broke.”
Matt Tyson expressed concern about excavation for underground parking next to a flowing river, and the amount of explosions that might be necessary in the vicinity of the dam.
“The concerns about erosion are ongoing along Pemberwick Road and the Byram River. The town just spent money repairing the side of Pemberwick Rd last year where there are no sidewalks for pedestrians to get to he park,” Tyson said.
Further he said traffic concerns would be compounded, given the major construction taking place in Port Chester as well as Army Corps plans to replace two bridges on Putnam Ave, which will take years to complete and cause serious traffic issues.
As for the sewer capacity, Mr. Tyson said, “The school does not do laundry or take showers. We are already at capacity as far as sewer. The pump house on Den Lane behind 777 West Putnam Ave is aging and near capacity.”
After public comment, Ms Alban said the commission would prefer the development to be smaller, but legally they could not require that.
“But you heard the sentiment. What you’re doing is very large,” she said.
Mr. Carrier declined to respond point by point to all the public comment, but made a comment about flooding concerns.
“The flooding is a huge issue, but we’re not contributing to the flooding,” he said. “We’ll be able to show very succinctly, calculating how we’re not adding any water to the river. We basically have a parking lot we’re building on. We’ll be keeping water from going into river and make the condition better – not in a significant way, but in a meaningful way.”
As for traffic concerns Mr. Carrier said, “We’re not adding 440 cars. Right now there are 200 cars effectively parked on the site. When it was in full operation there was busing from (a nearby parking lot)…I didn’t hear any complaints about when the building was an office building with 200 people-plus.”
As for the suggestion there would be a decade of disruption for the neighborhood, Mr. Carrier demurred. “There could be a year-and-a-half of significant impact, but we’ll phase it as best we can. But I don’t see blasting and creating huge noise and quality of life issues for a ten-year period.”
Ms Alban asked Mr. Carrier to consider proceeding with the development on the parking lot and hold off on the mill buildings for later, especially given the Cedar School has 7 years remaining in their lease.
Also she said a traffic study should address incremental traffic.
“A traffic study would have to address where we are looking at life safety issues – not whether there is incremental traffic but where it creates a strain on our road system that is life-safety and how we would address it: signalization, stop signs, those kinds of things.”
The applicant has a lot of work ahead. The Army Corps of Engineers will be involved, as well as town engineering, sewer and wetlands departments.
While the commissioners noted the location is not situated convenient to public transit, which is ideal for affordable housing, that would not be a deal breaker: Only issues of health and safety are grounds to reject the proposal, and the onus is on the town to prove that.
Another concern that is waived for an 8-30g is the impact to school enrollment. During Monday’s briefing it was noted that Comly/Pemberwick is just one of three potential large developments before P&Z. The other two are at American Lane in the northwest corner of town and the 8-30g proposed at Greenwich Woods on King Street, all proposing hundreds of new residential units.
There is a special P&Z meeting on Jan 11 at 4:00pm to discuss the American Lane application.