P&Z Watch: Pre-Application Submitted for “Vinci Gardens,” 52 Elderly Apartments in 4 Story, 50,000 sq ft Building in Byram

This story has been updated to reflect that the project already has an approval for MI, which stands for Municipal Improvement, from the Board of Selectmen.

A pre-application has been submitted by Greenwich’s Housing Authority, recently rebranded “Greenwich Communities,” to Greenwich Planning & Zoning to construct 52 senior independent living apartments at 71 Vinci Drive.

The proposal is for a 4-story, approximately 50,000 sq ft building comprised of 52 elderly apartments, all one-bedroom units.

The senior independent living apartments will be called “Vinci Gardens.”

Construction would be wood modular.

The land is owned by the town and leased by the housing authority.

The project already has an approved MI from the Board of Selectmen.

Currently at 71 Vinci Drive the housing authority runs McKinney Terrace I and II which opened in 1988. Both developments were originally financed through loans from the State’s Dept of Housing.

Geddis Architects rendering of proposed HATG seniors/disabled housing at McKinney Terrace. Presented to Board of Selectmen in 2018

Back in 2018 the housing authority came before the Board of Selectmen, at the time, led by Peter Tesei, to seek approval for an MI for an additional 51 units of senior and disabled housing at 71 Vinci Drive.

The project had its MI approved by the Selectmen three years ago.

Back in 2009, citing pressure on the town to provide affordable housing the housing authority proposed additional housing at McKinney Terrace, but the Byram community erupted at the prospect of additional housing there, and the controversy made its way into election season with all selectmen candidates including Peter Tesei opposing the proposal saying it was a less than an ideal location for seniors.

Today, pressure on the town to provide the required 10% affordable housing has heightened significantly.

Again the topic is a campaign issue.

All three candidates in the Aug 17 special election for State Senate 36th district declared at Monday’s debate that they support local control of zoning vis a vis Hartford.

The town had a good scare from proposed legislation in SB1024 this winter.

The legislation would have swept aside local zoning with a heap of new rules allowing for transit oriented development, language that allowed “as of right” mixed-use and multi-family developments within a 1/2 mile of a town’s primary transit station. It also would have allowed multifamily housing within 1/4 mile of at least one main street corridor in towns with a population over 7,500.

In the end, the legislation was scaled down significantly, with only an option for towns to allow Accessory Dwelling Units “as of right” in single family homes surviving the legislative process. Greenwich’s P&Z commission will discuss whether to opt in or opt out of that ADU option.

Until Greenwich achieves the goal of 10% affordable housing, it will be subject to state statute 8-30g, which exempts developers from all local zoning regulations except in the rare case of public health and safety. It is not new; it’s been on the books since the 1980s, but as Greenwich has run out of land, developers are increasingly turning to 8-30g.

No one disagrees that the town needs and wants to create affordable housing, but to achieve 10%, about 1200 new units need to be created. In an 8-30g, only 10% of the units are required to be affordable. One wonders if Greenwich even has the infrastructure to accommodate this many units.

The town has about 5% of its housing deemed affordable per the state definition. The official count does not include de facto affordable housing, such as that provided private school teachers and employees of private clubs and naturally occurring affordable housing.

McKinney Terrace I. Family, 1988 comprised of 21  (1), (2) and (3) bedroom units. Moderate-Income family apartments. Financed by the State of Connecticut.
McKinney Terrace II, 1988. comprised of 51 studio and (1) bedroom apartments in a two-level elevator building for Adults 55+ and/ or The Disabled. Financed by a State of Connecticut grant. Formerly Byram elementary school.

This new pre-application from the housing authority notes that portions of the project will extend into the adjacent parcels on the north and east.

These parcels are bordered to the west by West Putnam Ave, to the north/east by Western Junior Highway, and to the south by a residential neighborhood. Residents on Sherman Ave and Homestead Lane have were notified by mail about the Vinci Gardens proposal.

The eastern parcel currently has a driveway easement for Vinci Drive to connect with Western Junior Highway and also a sidewalk easement through the other two parcels to provide pedestrian access to Strazza field, located within the park that is subject of much controversy.

The parkland features the aging 70s era Hamill Rink the town seeks to replace.

The snag is that the rink committee is comprised mostly of rink users, and has no representation of the local veterans who cherish the memorial grove of trees created to honor the graduates of the former Byram School who gave their lives in service. There is just one member on the committee representing the Byram Neighborhood Association.

The rink user committee has yet to vote on a preferred option for reconfiguration of the park, but are leaning toward Option A which would build a new rink where Strazza field is today. At their contentious July 21 meeting, a vote was on the agenda but the group lacked quorum, with virtually none of the rink users in attendance.

There have been disagreements with veterans and Byram residents about the reconfiguration of all the elements in the park and addition of a 30 ft wide access road plus sidewalk that would come in off Western Jr Highway and lead to a new rink the rink user committee is leaning toward relocating in the area of Strazza field. Veterans and neighbors have asked why not replace or renovate the existing rink in its current location.

Residents, veterans and the chair of the and the RTM Budget Overview Committee have all pointed out there are no price tags associated with any of the options the rink user committee is considering.

And now, with the pre-application for a large housing authority building just to the north adds another layer of intrigue.

Residents have questioned the rink user committee’s proposed 30 ft wide access road to the park, and asked whether it might also service future development on Vinci Drive.

On the housing authority’s list of site improvements for Vinci Gardens is parking lot and driveway expansion.

Moving forward, the housing authority will go before multiple boards and commission as they seek variances for building height and setback. That will require Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals review. The project will also require review by the Architectural Review Committee.

The project seeks expansion of the R-PDH-E zone (elderly zone) and a zoning map amendment of the R-PDH-E and R-6 zones.

Ultimately the will need special Permit and Site Plan approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Note to readers: This is a pre-application, and has yet to be scheduled for a meeting agenda, so P&Z commission and town planner are unable to answer questions at this time.
The time to comment or ask questions is if and when the application is scheduled for a public P&Z meeting. The idea of a pre-application is to dedicate about 20 minutes to the item during a P&Z meeting so the applicant gets enough feedback to determine whether to pursue an application.

Per CT Gen Stat § 7-159b (2013) pre-applications are non binding.They may not be appealed under any provision of the general statutes, and shall not be binding on the applicant or any authority, commission, department, agency or other official having jurisdiction to review the proposed project.

See also:

Greenwich Housing Authority Seeks MI for New 51-Unit Senior/Disabled Building at McKinney Terrace
July 2018