P&Z Watch: 8-30g Pre-Application for 15 Unit Development Next to Cos Cob School in Site of Flower Shop

On Tuesday night a pre application for a 15 unit multi family housing development at 4 Orchard Street, the site of a familiar florist next to Cos Cob School, raised eyebrows, particularly from neighbors.

The applicant is 4 Orchard LLC, which, according to the Secretary of State’s website is registered to Joseph Pecora, 70 Hamilton Ave, Pecora Brothers Inc.

4 Orchard Street in Cos Cob is currently home to Greenwich Florist. Photo: Leslie Yager

Attorney for the applicant, Bruce Cohen, said his client had acquired the property and proposed to develop it under C.G.S. Section 8-30g, which is the state’s affordable housing statute.

The Connecticut state statute offers developers latitude in terms of zoning when a municipality does not have at least 10% of its housing stock affordable.

P&Z Chair Margarita Alban said commissioners were particularly interested in the site in terms of rush hour and commuter routes, because people head up Valley to get to North Stamford or to get to the Merritt Parkway northbound.

Alban said the commission hoped the development would have a residential look, and fit into the neighborhood.

Mr. Cohen said his client’s proposal featured a smaller scaling building close to Orchard St in order to maintain the residential scale.

4 Orchard Street in Cos Cob is currently home to a florist.

Ms. Alban said there is a task force looking to implement the goal of diversifying housing per the Plan of Conservation and Development.

“One of the things the task force set out to do is figure out how to add small scale, affordable, set-aside developments in town,” Alban said. “The goal of diversifying our housing in the POCD – I believe that this goes toward achieving that general goal.”

“Strategically, I think it aligns with the POCD,” Alban added. “It’s just a question of how these 15 units will impact the traffic.”

Traffic Engineer John Canning was asked about traffic counts, given office workers were working remotely during Covid.

Canning said he compared the level of traffic activity projected for the 15 apartments – approximately 10 vehicles in the peak hours – and compared that with the level of traffic that would have occurred when the existing florist was operational.

He said the data indicates the 15 apartments would generate the same or less traffic than there is there now.

“Mr. Canning, what’s there now hasn’t generated anything in a long time,” Alban said. “I’d actually treat it as a vacant site.”

Alban said the commission had discussed the safety of Cos Cob children and the Level of Service (LOS) impacts at the intersection.

The intersection is offset and operates strangely at peak hours.

“Some of the traffic gets stuck, not knowing when it can jump out,” Alban said. “Those are the things we want you to address, and definitely look at this as a vacant site at the moment. I’ve not seen a car come of there in the last year.”

Mr. Cohen said he didn’t think the commission could look at the site as vacant.

“I think it’s fair to look at what legally could be done,” Cohen said. “A flower business can legally open up any time.”

“I’m sorry, that’s not fair to the town,” Alban said. “It may be legal or illegal, but you have to make an effort to do what’s right for the town.”

Commissioner Andy Fox described the intersection as complex.

Proposed queueing.

“It’s a difficult intersection,” Alban agreed, later adding that queuing backs up from the light at the intersection with East Putnam Ave.

Mr. Cohen said his client planned to relocate the driveway from the north side to the south so bedrooms and living rooms in buildings 1 and 2 have views over a residential area, rather than a parking lot.

“Our client did it in terms of the livability of people on the site,” he said.

“Hopefully they do live when they leave the site?” asked P&Z director Katie DeLuca.

Commissioner Nick Macri asked whether the applicant would consider the curb cut in relation to Cos Cob School’s curb cut. He also noted there was an extensive amount of hard surface – sidewalk, concrete and asphalt at the street.

“It would be a great idea if you could explore minimizing all of that hard surface and adding some green area,” Macri said, adding that would enhance the residential feel.

During public comment, Sylvia Gentile, a next door neighbor on Orchard Street, said while the florist is open, she agreed with Ms Alban that currently there is minimal traffic.

“You seem to think there will be 10 cars for 15 houses, which I personally find challenging, considering our neighbors here in three houses that line up to this potential building – we have among us 9 cars.”

(The proposed number of bedrooms in the 15 apartments is 29. Proposed is 25 parking spaces.)

Ms Gentile said in the morning and afternoon, there is a line of cars so long she has to wait three to five minutes just to access her own driveway.

Ms Gentile also said the applicant had already cleared trees from the property resulting in hers and her neighbors’ loss of privacy.

“The amount of wind coming through in storms that we’ve never dealt with before, has impacted us as we’ve lost huge limbs on our tree that’s been on our property longer than our house, which has been there since the 1800s,” she said.

“We’d like to ensure that we have privacy because what we see in that plan is my son’s bedroom is going to overlook a dumpster,” Ms Gentile added. “We were told they were going to put in Rhododendrons.”

Ms Alban said the applicant is aware that the commission will look for screening, and that one of the POCD objectives is to increase screening between multi-family/commercial/institutional use and single family homes.

Naren Santayana, of 6B Orchard Street, next to the proposed development, questioned any assumptions about traffic, given during the pandemic people are working from home and there are minimal cars coming and going from 4 Orchard St.

“Sometimes I’ve been stuck not able to pull into my own driveway,” he said. “That’s me literally at a standstill at the current florist’s driveway. So the additional vehicles or 1.5 times the number of units is definitely a concern.”

Another neighbor, Eve Chin, asked whether the developer had spoken to Cos Cob School about impacts to children.

“My child is in 3rd grade and in the last four years, Cos Cob parents have received letters from the principal, Mr. Schmidt, begging us to be careful when we are walking across the florist parking lot. It’s accidents waiting to happen. I’ve watched children almost get hit by cars, every single year when I walk my children to school.”

“Adding 10, 15 more cars to that area during school hours is very scary to me with a child walking to school,” she added.

Another neighbor, Luigi Barcello, said while the application proposed 1.25 cars per unit, “The reality, we all know, is very different. There isn’t a single home on Orchard with less than 2-3 cars per house. So here we’re looking more in the neighborhood of 30-35 cars, if we’re going to be real.”

“It’s just a fact of life,” he said. “All these cars coming in and out of there, where are they going to park? Fifteen units is just not realistic for that small piece of property.”

Ms Alban explained the state’s affordable housing statute, 8-30g.

“When a town does not have enough affordable housing, someone can develop a piece of property and not follow the Greenwich regulations,” she said. “That means although we may require X amount of parking in our regulations, the application does not have to do that because today Greenwich does not have enough affordable housing. We are supposed to have 10% of our housing be affordable by state law, and we don’t. They can actually disregard our parking standard.”

The commission asked the applicant to return with more information, including an updated traffic analysis that reflects school children’s arrival and dismissal.

See also:

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Greenwich P&Z Watch: DeSegregate CT Seeks to Make Single Family Zoning a Thing of the Past

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P&Z Watch: Three 8-30g Proposals Exempt from Local Zoning Scrutinized

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P&Z Watch: Illegal Apartment in Pemberwick Becomes Legit as “Affordable”

April 1, 2019