Tuesday will mark the long anticipated return of the proposed “Church-Sherwood” seven-story, 192-unit affordable housing project proposed under CT state affordable housing statute 8-30g, the state law that exempts applicants from local zoning regulations in all but rare circumstances.
Though Tuesday’s P&Z meeting includes a public hearing, during the staff briefing on Monday – typically attended by attorneys who listen but don’t speak – the commission revealed some of their thinking.
As required by state statute 8-30g, the development will designate 30% of 192 apartments as affordable per a state defined formula.
That breaks down to 134 market rate and 58 affordable.
The affordable units are required to be deed restricted for 40 years. Until 10% of Greenwich’s housing stock is affordable, 8-30g will continue to apply. Roughly 1200 units of affordable housing would be required for Greenwich to achieve 10%. If all new affordable units were developed under 8-30g, that would result in 5,000+ new units in town.
The applicants, Eagle Ventures, founded in 2010 by Greenwich native James P. Cabrera, and SJP Properties, first appeared before P&Z in October with their proposal. Residents voiced surprise that the massive building was proposed for Church Street, a narrow, heavily trafficked cut-through to Greenwich Hospital, the Merritt Parkway, as well as to Glenville and I-684.
The proposal would replace the brick building that is home to Townhouse Restaurant, as well as two commercial buildings. As proposed it would also demolish several historic houses that date back to the late 1800s.
According to the Greenwich Historical Society, the Fourth Ward, began in 1836 as one of only two centrally-located urban subdivisions in town that pre-dated the coming of the railroad in 1848. The Fourth Ward became a National Register Historic District in the year 2000.
At Monday’s briefing, P&Z director Katie DeLuca said she’d spoken to the applicant prior to a March 25 hearing of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). She said the applicants did not disagree the houses to be demolished were contributing structures to the historic district.
“They did ask if there was a town property somewhere the buildings could be moved,” DeLuca recalled, adding that SHPO’s approach is not to approve or decline, but to try to find solutions.
SHPO serves in an advisory role to the state’s Historic Preservation Council.
“Part of their solutions are to either reuse the structures in place for an Affordable Housing project, let’s say, or to move them somewhere within the same district,” DeLuca said.
“You have a National Register Historic District. If you move buildings out of it, it’s the same as destroying them,” said P&Z chair Margarita Alban.
She said since SHPO had determined the buildings were contributing and significant, the next step would be for the application to be assigned to a Preservation Council agenda.
That said, the Council’s agendas are full for the next few months, and there is no chance to increase the priority of the application since no one had applied for a demolition permit and P&Z had not given their approval.
DeLuca said when the the Council does meet, they will determine whether to send the application to the Attorney General’s office, which is the final step.
“Anecdotally, SHPO staff have spoken to some of the people who were the original authors of the 8-30g bill, and said, ‘Was this the intention that historic structures can be demolished in favor of affordable housing,’ and they said,’ Absolutely not,'” DeLuca said. “But that’s neither here nor there. We have to go through the process.”
Alban asked whether the applicant had been open to revising their application to address the topic of the historic houses.
“I think we need to ask them that question,” DeLuca said.
Alban said the elephant in the room was the National Register Historic District.
“If they’re going to revise the application, it doesn’t make sense to be poking them with fire, drainage and traffic, because there’s the big question: How do you work with the National Historic District?”
“I would think it’s not a good scenario for the applicant to wait for SHPO and the Attorney General. A better scenario would be, ‘How do we propose this so it does below market housing and preserves the historic structures?'” Alban said.
DeLuca mentioned a letter from the Greenwich Women’s Exchange who own and operate out of 28 Sherwood Place, which is not part of the project.
She said the Women’s Exchange cited an easement for just four properties to use Putnam Court, not the 11 the applicant seeks to offer access.
Amenities that Cost Extra?
The other topic the commission discussed were possible “optional fees” tenants have to pay for amenities.
According to the staff report, “The outdoor amenities proposed include a resident pool with outdoor lounging decks and a rooftop pickle ball court. Other amenities include bike storage,an interior loading area in the garage for tenants moving in/out, tenant storage lockers for residents, a main lobby, a pet spa, lounge area, communal living areas and restrooms, private event rooms with wine lockers, a fitness center, a multi-sport simulator; meeting rooms/offices for tenant use; a mail room…”
Ms Alban used the example of the roof deck. “The law doesn’t cover stuff like that, so we have to figure that out,” she said.
“If it was an amenity that was truly something you can live in a building without, that’s one thing. What’s concerning is that it is not defined,” she said.
“You don’t want to create a two tier system,” said Peter Levy.
“You also don’t want to make it impossible for someone to actually live affordably in the building because you’re charging them for everything they do,” Alban said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Tuesday’s P&Z meeting starts at 4:00pm and Church-Sherwood is second on the agenda. The meeting is exclusively via Zoom.