Camillo, Residents Testify against Cos Cob 8-30g; Civil Rights Attorney Reminds P&Z of “Duties to create affordable housing opportunities”

On Tuesday the Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission reacted somewhat favorably to an 8-30g affordable housing application in Cos Cob at 4 Orchard Street (in the R7 zone) where there is currently a florist, greenhouse and dwelling.

The applicant is Joe Pecora. His attorney is Bruce Cohen, who said the proposal was for a 15-unit development, with modular construction, with 5 units considered affordable under 8-30g.

View of Orchard from East Putnam Ave. Cos Cob School at left.

Mr. Cohen said that just because the flower shop business had diminished over recent years, the existing nonconforming commercial use remained protected at the location.

He said if the 8-30g project did not proceed, a more successful company such as McArdle’s, Sam Bridge or Ceci brothers might wish to operate there and generate considerable traffic.

Cohen said his client, who has created 8-30g developments at 180 and 303 Hamilton Avenue, intends to construct and manage the units as rentals.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the applicant had done an excellent job, noting the proposed architecture was consistent with the neighborhood. The site is convenient to bus routes and walkable to retail.

Canning said the four traffic accidents on file from the past five years, and all were all caused by pick-up an drop-off.

“It is the management of that school driveway that is the issue,” Alban said, adding that the southbound intersection was a bad regardless of what development comes to 4 Orchard.

Alban agreed that the proposal for 15 units would create less intensive traffic than a fully active commercial use.

“We have an issue with this intersection,” Alban said. “We need to try to address this intersection, regardless of this application. The residents of this neighborhood have a point.”

She said the DPW should be consulted about improving the intersection.

Canning said the way the parking was designed for the development, with cars queuing to exit could idle in the driveway and not block Orchard Street.

Rendering shows proposed parking spaces and buildings at 4 Orchard Street in Cos Cob.
4 Orchard Street in Cos Cob is currently home to Greenwich Florist. The site includes a dwelling, greenhouse, storage shed and garage. Photo: Leslie Yager
Sketches of different elevations of the proposed development at 4 Orchard Street.
Five years of accident data. Four accidents took place at the Cos Cob School parking lot. None involved injuries or pedestrians.

A number of residents voiced their opposition to the proposal, and there are about three dozen letters objecting to the development on file, including one from a teacher who said the Board of Education already frequently funnels offers of affordable housing to town employees.

“There seems to be an abundance of unused supply already based on the plethora of emails I get offering them,” wrote Cos Cob School teacher Jennifer Lozina.

Another letter was from a CT State Trooper, Tom Ehret, a neighbor who wrote, “I can tell you personally that I have seen on multiple occasions ‘near misses’ as operators of vehicles do not adhere to stop signs at Orchard and Valley. Nor do they adhere to clearly posted cross walks. Again, adding a large residential development in the immediate area will have drastic negative effects.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo testified during public comment that the town is trying its best to achieve the State’s 10% affordable mandate, but he had environmental and public safety concerns with the proposal.

“There is a growing frustration in town, from citizens who feel they are under assault at times with all these applications,” he said. “Whether they lived there their whole lives or bought a house, they’re seeing conditions change before their very eyes. And 8-30g ends up being the vehicle being used by the developer to put these projects forward.”

Camillo said he was not a paid consultant, but had grown up on the street and was familiar with Lee’s Florist at 4 Orchard.

“I can tell you that there has never been intense vehicular traffic coming out that driveway that would be comparable to a development of this size,” Camillo said.

“I grew up there and don’t have to look at studies,” he said. “Any time you increase traffic at a very very busy intersection you do have a public safety concern. You’re also going to have vehicles idling there because they have no place else to go. You’re making what is a beautiful area that is burdened by traffic concerns worse. No traffic consultant can tell me that by putting more units, more people, and more cars there you’re going to keep a situation as good or better.”

Parents in the neighborhood shared concerns about unintended consequences as far as children walking and being dropped off to Cos Cob School next door.

Ernest Gentile of 6 Orchard Street, described the island in the awkward intersection of Orchard and East Putnam Ave as the Wild West.

“The head on collisions I’ve almost seen there. I sit on my front porch, and it’s like the Fourth of July,” he said. “It’s a party watching people avoid accidents.”

He said he was also concerned about parking spots with idling cars adding to pollution impacting the children playing in the back yard next door. He said a rhododendron was not enough of a screen against noise and pollution.

“Since they brought the trees down, we’ve lost complete protection from everything,” he said, adding that in the last storm his children’s trampoline ended up in his neighbor’s yard.

“We live in a prairie at this point,” Gentile added.

The last speaker during public comment was Peter Haberlandt, the senior legal counsel with Open Communities Alliance based in Hartford.

Per their website, Open Communities Alliance is a civil rights organization that promotes access to opportunity through education, organizing, advocacy, and partnerships.

Haberlandt urged the commission to “remain mindful of your legal duties concerning multi-family and affordable housing opportunities…”

“I think 8-30g is part of that, and I guess it’s understandable that it gets a lot of attention, but that’s really not the foundation of the duties that the town has,” Haberlandt said. “The Zoning Enabling Act specifically identifies the duty to encourage the development of housing opportunities, including multi-family dwellings for all residents of the municipality and the planning region in which the municipality is located.”

“It is absolutely vital that the commission be proactively welcoming opportunities to provide housing for low and moderate income households, and not simply those who are already living or working in Greenwich, but households throughout the broader region.”

Peter Haberlandt, senior legal counsel with Open Communities Alliance

Haberlandt disputed what he described as the perception that Greenwich is besieged by developers who are being abusive of 8-30g.

He said Towns have duties to be proactive to promote, with their zoning and planning, opportunities for housing for low and moderate income families in the region.

“If a town is doing what it should be with its zoning and planning, 8-30g really shouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “You shouldn’t have these situations of towns being reactive or defensive to developers.”

Second, he said the State of CT’s Appeals Act listing from 2019 says Greenwich has 25,631 total housing units and only 33 units that fall under 8-30g, or 0.12% of the housing stock.

“We can approach affordability in myriad different ways, and they don’t have to be 8-30g,” Alban said. “We see it as a very broad brush, multi-prong approach. The housing authority does some of it. And we are also seeing, as tonight, these small scale proposals that blend into communities and we’re working on regulations that will continue to encourage those.”

She noted the meeting agenda included two moderate income housing proposals and two different 8-30g proposals (4 Orchard Street and 28 Hollow Wood Lane in Pemberwick.)

Alban noted that 6.6% of the Town’s population lives below the poverty line.

“We nave not even met, in our affordability, the needs of our own population,” she continued. “But we agree with you that to attract more people, especially families, is a good idea.”

Alban said Greenwich has a significant minority population, often low income, who deserve to be accommodated. “We are seeking opportunities to do that,” she said.

“We are well aware of our responsibilities,” she added, going on to invite Mr. Haberlandt to contribute to Greenwich’s affordable housing task force.

Alban said it was understandable for residents to be concerned about development.

“We have to find the balance that grows our housing diversity and have residents feel we’re maintaining their quality of life.”

Margarita Alban, P&Z chair

She also pointed out that the price of real estate in Greenwich makes the task challenging.

P&Z is holding a public workshop at 5:00pm on Jan 14, regarding Sec. 6-110 Moderate Income Housing Regulations. (Click for link to get to Zoom .)

Existing and proposed stats for 4 Orchard multi-family development submitted under Connecticut’s 8-30g affordable housing statute.

See also:

P&Z Considers 21-Unit 8-30g Development on Hollow Wood in Flood Zone