P&Z Watch: Commissioners, BNA question appropriateness of self-storage facility on waterfront

On Tuesday the owners of 84 South Water Street in Byram, Sean Wallace and Nick Barile, presented a pre-application for a mini self storage facility, which they noted had very low parking requirements. They said they would seek to demolish the existing building, which was formerly home to HASCO Electric.

Mr. Wallace said he and Mr. Barile purchased the property back in 2018 and spent a considerable amount of time and money cleaning up the “environmentally challenged site.”

He said they had looked at a variety of ways to redevelop the site with an eye to low impact, value to the community, integrating into the waterfront, and contributing to the neighborhood.

“It has low need for schools and elderly support, and if you look on a a nationwide basis, (Greenwich) is under-served for self storage,” Wallace said. “We have put some renderings in, which look like New England condos.”

He said they were considering saving the front wall, though that presents some physical challenges.

Commissioner Nick Macri asked how a self storage facility would dovetail with Waterfront Business Zone (WB Zone) uses?

Wallace said in addition to self storage, there would be space near the waterfront to extend the walkway along the Byram River.

“We expect to do as much as we could in terms of adding docks or boat storage,” he said. “It all depends on the Army Corps of Engineers. They’re quite precious about what can be done relative to the river. We also think there is space there that could made there for folks who want to do standup paddle boarding, canoeing and fishing.”

Gardens in a pocket park maintained by Parks & Rec along Byram River in Byram. June 26, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager
Picnic tables are a feature of this pocket park in Byram along the Byram River. June 26, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager
View from South Water Street of the collapsed boardwalk behind Costco in Port Chester. June 26, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

Macri pressed further.

“That’s the connection to the water, but how does the use of a storage facility fit into the uses that are providing in the WB zone that are water recreation, water dependent, water related – that kind of thing?”

Wallace said a portion of the storage would be for boats.

Mr. Macri asked for more details on how boat storage might work as far as getting boats from storage out into the water.

P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban said one thing the commission looks for, and is encouraged by state and federal law, is some kind of public access on the water side.

Wallace said Greenwich needs a self-storage facility.

“The average self storage facility is within three miles of a population, and there really isn’t any of that in Greenwich, so this is something that needs to be done. If we can get some flexibility on some things, we could get some amenities there which we think would draw people to the water.”

Mr. Levy inquired about the possibility of a café or restaurant use.

Mr. Wallace said that a number of restaurants had failed in the area.

“I think that two had turned over in the past 12 months. We looked at that extensively. If you want to give me the ability to put a Starbucks in there I’d be happy to. I’m sure that won’t happen.”

Levy pressed on. “Do you think it’s because of location? Do you think it’s because of access issues?”

“I’m not a restaurateur, but you’ve had two restaurants fail on the Greenwich side in the last 12 months. …We could look into that and come back with some thoughts.”

“What about the idea of a small storefront with packaging materials, boxes – something related to storage that would be manned by the person who would be there anyway – just so there is some sort of street relationship?” suggested Director of P&Z Katie DeLuca.

“Are you implying we could sell other things so it could be an amenity for the community?” Wallace asked.

“I was thinking that should be up front, so you’re not walking by stores and all of a sudden there is this blank wall. There would at least be some interaction.”

“That’s a great idea,” Wallace said. “One of the tings we want to do is save that front building. The facade – we think it’s quite retro and chic.

“I’ve always loved that building,” Alban said.

“It’s a beautiful building. Unfortunately a prior owner didn’t treat it as well as it probably should,” Wallace explained. “Hopefully we could save a piece of that and have something historical for the town.”

Alban asked if the whole building could be restored.

Wallace said it might be possible.

Ms Alban said if the applicant created a retail café, they would only be required to have 12 seats, which would not have a large parking requirement.

“Anything that turns you toward the river and enhances that,” Alban said. “I believe the neighbors have a significant interest in the application.”

“You know you are in a flood zone as well,” Alban said. “If you demolish the whole building you’ll have to go full FEMA compliance.”

She added that even if the applicant did a rehabilitation rather than a demolition, they would they’d have to be FEMA compliant, unless, possibly there was some historic preservation.

Commissioner Peter Lowe said the WB Zone regulation addressed whether the water-related use and questioned whether the facility could be easily placed inland.

Mr. Wallace said if there was space inland in town for a self-storage it would have already been built.

“We’re trying to balance the desire to have something that integrates with the water, and we’ll have a walkway which will integrate with the entire piece. Right now you can’t walk the entire way from the bridge. We’ve talked about adding space for fishing, for recreation, for boats, etc into that. And we’ve talked about some sort of storage, albeit seasonal, for boats.”

Mr. Macri said, “If you were exclusively marine storage and had access to the water from the property that would make sense, but I’m not seeing how this use as a self-storage location fits into the 6-107 WB zone.”

Mr. Wallace said he and his partner had explored a variety of options for developing the property, which he described as an eyesore.

“We’ve spent significant sums to improve it from an environmental perspective. We’re trying to thread the needle between the desire to have something that would work on the waterfront, be viable, that wouldn’t have too much impact, and would work in a flood zone.”

– Sean Wallace, applicant/owner of 84 South Water Street

Alban said no matter what use the applicants pursue, they will be impacted by the residential development across the river in Port Chester, NY.

All along Main Street in Port Chester there are multi-story apartment buildings under construction, and more in the works, including just opposite at the block that featured the former Tarry Lodge.

Mr. Barile said the site had been used for storage for many years. “It’s actually not a change of use,” he said.

“I thought initially it was light industrial, but you’ve done more research,” Ms Alban said. “I’m going to believe you, but I thought it was approved for light industrial.”

Wallace said the front of building was used for manufacturing, and the back of the building was used for assembly and storage.

“They brought components in from all over the world. I can show you pictures form the newspaper around the turn of the century, they had to bring pig iron into that facility. They’d blow up the Byram River (ice) so they could service that facility.”

Ms Alban said the historical aspect of the site was valuable and appreciated.

Mr. Macri said when the applicant returns he’d like to see the certificates of occupancy for previous uses as well as a brief on how the intended use fits the WB zone use.

DeLuca said since the site was deep, it might be possible to do create kayak storage along the side of the building.

“We’d love to see you do water, we’d love to see pubic access,” Alban said. “We’d love to see something that is other than cement color, and add some trees. If you can restore that facade, it could be very cool. It could be a real boost.”

Public Comment

During public comment, Al Shehadi, who is chair of land use committee for the Byram Neighborhood Association, said his neighborhood group submitted written comments. The BNA had just discussed the proposed self-storage application during their meeting Monday night.

Mr. Shehadi said his understanding was that the building was used for millwork that depended on water delivery. He said he had toured the building with a previous owner.

He said the BNA simply did not want a self storage facility in their neighborhood.

“We are blessed with a historic walkable downtown area. It has a modest critical mass. It has suffered from benign neglect, but there is enormous potential there. The BNA is actively encouraging development of underdeveloped sites, reuse of existing sites that build on our strengths, that preserve history, that and expand our walkable downtown and expand access to the waterfront, and generally add vibrancy to the area,” Shehadi said.

“There are numerous studies that said blank facades with no interaction to the street kill street life. People just walk past and I’ve seen studies that say speed up when they’re walking past. We want uses that will slow people down and get people to interact with the street and the building.”

Al Shehadi, Byram Neighborhood Association land use committee chair

Shehadi said he sympathized with the developers not being able to develop the property for residential use, but that the BNA’s opinion was that if a storage use were to be approved, that it be secondary to the goal vibrancy and street connection.

See also:

Byram Updates: I95 Noise, Bike Lanes, Traffic, HASCO Waterfront Pre-Application, Hamill Rink

Nov 9, 2021

First Selectman to Target Blighted Properties in Byram

June 28, 2021

Raised Deck Facing Byram River Proposed for Macelleria

Sept 7, 2021

In Byram, Rosina’s Offers a Modern Take on Classic Italian Dishes

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