The Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission met Tuesday in another marathon meeting that included an application for a two-family home on an undersized 4,941 square foot lot located in a flood zone at 26 Homestead Lane.
The house is in the R6 zone where two family homes are considered as of right, but the application came before the commission because the lot is not standard size.
The property has an interesting history, which the applicant’s attorney Casey O’Donnell explained.
O’Donnell, who was previously employed by the Town of Greenwich as a zoning enforcement officer, said that back in 2006 he visited the site. In 2007 he referred the owner to superior court to encourage them to make the building safe. Ultimately the house was demolished.
Since appearing before the commission a few months ago, the applicant revised the application to eliminate a third floor bedroom in each unit.
That, in turn lowered the parking requirement.
O’Donnell said the proposal was for 62% of allowable FAR, with 1500 sq ft for each of the two units. He said there is also more green area than required, and they will retain the mature Maple trees at the back of the lot.
O’Donnell said a revised parking plan created “straight through tandem parking” under the building.
Previously the commission told the applicant the parking was very tight and would be difficult to maneuver. And they were concerned that residents and their guests would park on the street, which is a narrow dead end. In fact, cars already jockey to park on Homestead and a neighbor testified previously that Pemberwick Road residents with access via the rear of their properties often find their driveways blocked.
Also, O’Donnell said the height of the building had been lowered by five inches and applicant had come to an agreement with the sewer division, and there were endorsements from zoning, engineering, conservation and wetlands.
Still, the commissioners had concerns about the number of bedrooms.
Commissioner Nick Macri suggested the applicant had changed the name of the rooms on the third floor of each unit, but that they might still be used as bedrooms.
“I see two doors missing and four closets gone,” Macri said. “You changed the names and took out closets, but I’m still looking at something that could be used as a bedroom.”
“In the narrative, the roof is lowered by a few inches. And I was very excited that you had eliminated bedrooms,” Macri added, adding that instead of a bedroom the plans say ‘yoga room.’
“My concern is even though it’s not a bedroom and there’s no closet, it still has a full bathroom, full stair and full head height,” he said. “What will provide me with security this is not a bedroom and never will be a bedroom?”
Mr. O’Donnell explained that the house had no basement for storage and the third floor was “wide open space.” He said families also enjoy having extra living space for playrooms or home offices.
He offered to reduce the full bath to a half bath.
“I recognize what the code says and the intent of the code,” he said. “I think the space is reasonable.”
“We have more rooms that could be classified as a bedroom and we don’t have parking for them,” explained P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban.
Mr. Macri suggested working on a compromise, starting with decreasing the full bath to a half bath.
Ms Alban suggested the applicant convert the application to preliminary because the timeline was soon to expire.
“I want you to approve it tonight,” O’Donnell said.
“You still don’t have enough parking for the number of bedrooms, and a half bath can be made into a full,” Alban said. “You’re saying you’re not over-developing the property. You know the neighborhood. You know what they want us to do is make sure they’re not putting more cars on the street.”
Mr. O’Donnell said each unit was just 1500 sq ft.
“I want you to close it and vote for approval,” he said.
“You are underparked per the regs now,” Alban said.
“I challenge that,” O’Donnell said, adding that the room on the third floor could be a den, loft or living room.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said similar situations had come up in the past and dens were counted as bedrooms per the spirit of the regulation.
“Historically the commission has used libraries and dens in the parking count count,” she said.
Mr. Macri said if the third floor space had no closet and no bathroom, it would be “just an attic.”
“But the fact that there is a bathroom and closet, and it is detached from the other bedrooms tells me it is a bedroom.”
Ms DeLuca suggested that if there was some connection between a second floor bedroom that made the third floor space a loft or mezzanine – that didn’t come off a corridor, but came out of the bedroom – it might not count as a bedroom.
“Our job is not to design buildings,” Alban cautioned.
“I want you to approve this as submitted with a condition of no closets and a half bathroom on the third floor,” O’Donnell said.
“This commission has made it clear the guidelines are telling us what to do,” said commissioner Peter Lowe. “I don’t know why we have to belabor this any more.”
“I agree,” said commissioner Dennis Yeskey.
The commission closed the application.
At the end of the meeting they took a vote.
There was a motion to approve the application if the third floor had a half bath, and no closets or closed stairways (no doors), and four tandem parking spaces even though technically 5.2 parking spaces are required per regs.
“This sounds like a bad thing for our regulations in the future,” commissioner Dennis Yeskey said. “I’ve owned buildings with half baths on the third floor and it’s a bedroom…This doesn’t sound like a precedent we want to set.”
Mr. Yeskey, Mr. Lowe, and Ms Alban voted no. Mr Welles and Mr. Macri voted yes.
With the 3-2 vote the motion failed to carry.
The commission then voted on a motion to deny based on the parking not conforming to regulations.
The vote was 4 to 1 on the motion to deny without prejudice (meaning they can come back with a modified plan. Otherwise they have to wait at least a year to return), with only Mr. Macri voting to approve.