P&Z Watch: Feedback Given on New Private High School on Pemberwick Rd

Plans for a new private high school, The Cedar School at 200 Pemberwick Road, were presented by the applicant, head of school Clay Kaufman Tuesday night.

Mr. Kaufman said initially there would be just 20 students, but the school would build up to 100.

The applicant seeks a Final Site Plan and to change the use of the site from Office to School, which is allowable in the underlying zones. In the 1980s The Mead School operated at 200 Pemberwick.

A previous P&Z commission approved a 21-unit residential development on the Comly Avenue side of the site, but it was never built.

The owner of the property is Aldo Pascarella.

The site is split across the Byram River. It is located in a Flood Zone and there is a dam up-river.

The building is non compliant for the flood zone, but it does not have to become compliant unless improvements exceed 50% of the property’s value.

Once the applicant’s improvements exceed 50% of the property’s value, the building must be brought into compliance with the flood zone regulations.

The applicant’s architects assured the commission that the construction budget to make the space accommodate the school was about $150,000, which did not meet the 50% threshold. Still they were told they must work with the zoning enforcement officer to submit their “substantial improvement forms,” which are required for a building permit.

Evacuation from Flood Zone

“The dam is upriver; you’re in a flood zone,” noted P&Z chair Margarita Alban.

Mr. Smith, architect for the applicant, said if there was a flood, students would walk over the pedestrian bridge, which is much higher than the elevation of the flood plane, and through the parking lot to higher ground.

“The minute you come down off the bridge you’re out of any potential flood zone,” said Mr. Kaufman said. “Even if the dam broke, we’d still be able to get into the parking lot safely.”

“Schools are allowed in flood zones,” said P&Z director Katie DeLuca.

The applicant shared a diagram of an evacuation route to higher ground.

Evacuation route to higher ground. The Cedar School has parking on one side of the Byram River and classrooms on second floor of the “north building.”
dam on the Byram River, reinforced with granite.
One of two dams on the Byram River in Greenwich, this is beside the site of the former nut and bolt factory in Pemberwick. June 1, 2015 Photo: Leslie Yager
200 Pemberwick Road viewed from Comly Ave.

Operating hours at the school would be 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, with occasional early evening events such as parents’ night. No outdoor activities are planned on site.

There would be no auditorium, gymnasium or cafeteria on site. Students would eat lunch in their classrooms.

Sports would be exclusively after school, and located off site. About half the students would go home at 3:30pm. Others would have staggered sports practices and would take advantage of passenger vans driven by their teachers to get to various locations for tennis, cross country, soccer, basketball, etc. Kaufman said this would result in a staggered dismissal at the end of the day.

“We’ve already been in touch with the town to get approved as a school and to apply for permits for fields,” Kaufman said, adding that they’d contacted area schools to set up games. He was also in contact with organizations who may have facilities available at certain times during the day.

The commission asked the applicant provide more specifics on how the sports programs would work, including actual destinations.

Filling a Niche

Parents testified it was a much needed asset to the town. Kaufman said the school would specialize in teaching students with Dyslexia and that there is a need in Greenwich as well as Westchester.

For example, The Windward School and Eagle Hill School only go through 8th grade, so students wind up having to go to boarding school if they’re not ready to mainstream.

Kaufman, who said he ran a similar school in Maryland with 15 students for 12 years, said The Cedar School will fill a niche in Greenwich.

“Language based learning differences affect reading and writing. These are students who are doubly cursed, because when you meet them they seem like typical kid,” Kaufman said. “They are very smart and creative. They thrive with hands on types of learning. But when they’re learning in traditional schools, and traditional methods, teachers start to assume that they are either lazy or not that bright. Actually they are working twice as hard as anyone else. They just need the right approach.”

Public Comment

During public comment, neighbors and potential school parents all were enthusiastic about the new school.

Andrea Blume, a neighbor, said the school had a wonderful mission and impressive advisory board.

Ms Blume did question the condition of the dam and retaining walls on site.

Also, she noted the site is at the bottom of a steep hill and there are no sidewalks, both safety considerations, especially since there has been an influx of young families with children riding their bikes in the streets.

She added that random trucks including Verizon and UPS trucks park in the empty lot to eat breakfast and lunch from Castle View Deli on Morgan Ave, and the lot should be “privatized.”

View from Morgan Ave of trucks parked in the lot at 200 Pemberwick. May 26, 2021 Contributed photo

Phyllis Jedda, whose husband Henry owns the deli, said they are “extraordinarily supportive” of the application.

Lastly she said she was concerned about sewage capacity.

“We have had back up and sewer issues in the past,” Blume said. “We did have a sink hole over there too.”

She also was concerned about drainage and lack of green space. She asked whether the school would make use of Pemberwick Park, nothing there are no sidewalks on Pemberwick Road.

Ms Alban said the Sewer Dept had given their boilerplate response, meaning they did not have a capacity concern.

“Townwide we have old lines and storm events do affect them,” Alban said.

She said they’d ask police for any accident reports on file.

Parking and Drop off

As for parking, the applicant said they counted 190 spaces.

The current office tenants use a separate parking lot on the other side of the building.

Drop off for the school would involve a loop. “We can easily get 33 cars in the loop, which is more than enough to get through 100 students in a half hour,” Kaufman said.

The applicant said students would not drive themselves to school, and they anticipated families would carpool.

Kaufman said he or another staff member would personally be outside in the morning at drop off and discourage parents from getting out of their cars.

A second staff member would be in the building to greet students who would then take the stairs or an elevator to the second floor. Doors would be locked from the outside for safety. Visitors would be required to be buzzed in.

Ms Alban said the commission was concerned about drop off given there would be both office and school use on the site.

“It makes me nervous that it’s commercial use combined with the school use,” Alban said, adding that combining school and commercial uses are not habitual in Greenwich.

“You don’t think anything of it in New York City, but here we do because people are not habituated to that,” Alban said. “That was really our safety concern.”

While the applicant is eager to get work underway, the item was left open and the applicant was asked to submit more detail to illustrate that the school traffic will not interface with the traffic for the commercial tenants.

They were also asked to submit their “substantial improvement forms” to the ZEO. Those forms are required to get a building permit.

Commissioner Dennis Yeskey warned that the 50% cost data on substantial improvements “could make or break some things.”

The commission said they could add the applicant to a meeting agenda in the near future as they are aware the applicant is eager to get work underway.