P&Z Watch: Proposed Development at Tip of Mead Point Threatens “An Ecological Treasure”

At the Dec 21 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting an application to build a 15,161 sq ft house, pool and cabana at the tip of Mead Point, a peninsula in Indian Harbor on Long Island Sound, raised eyebrows.

The applicant, Mead Point LLC, registered to Kenneth Gruder of Fairfield, was represented by attorney Tom Heagney.

The property is located at 0 Indian Field Road, though the application and marketing materials for “The Peninsula at Mead Point” refer to 602 Indian Field Rd. (For another view go to Google Earth, Brush Island.)

According to comments from Greenwich’s Conservation Dept, Parcels “A” and “B” on the peninsula have been held in common ownership and remain undeveloped.

According to the Assessor’s office at Greenwich Town Hall two parcels at 000 Indian Field Rd sold on August 27, 2021 from Il Mandorlo LLC to Mead Point LLC for $36,750,000. (Il Mandorlo LLC has since dissolved according to the Secretary of State website)

Prior to that the parcels sold from Meads Point Land Co c/o Haebler to Il Mandorlo LLC on Nov 30, 2015 for $35,000,000.

In 2016, P&Z denied a subdivision application, but it was later approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“It is what Greenwich Point would be had it been left undisturbed. In these eight acres, there is a diversity of coastal habitats that are almost unseen along the Greenwich coast. There are coastal forests, coastal grasslands, inner tidal flats, submerged aquatic vegetation beds, shellfish reefs and tidal wetlands.”

– Laura di Bonaventura

Attorney Heagney explained that there were two parcels, A and B, at the end of Indian Field Road, and the application was for parcel A, an 8-acre parcel according to the Assessor.

But, he said, “When we eliminate the area between the lot shape and Indian Field Road and eliminate the portion that is not contiguous and greater than 70 ft wide, we end up with a lot that for zoning purposes that is 4.083 acres. For zoning purposes this is a 4-acre lot.”

The maximum floor area ratio for the house is 16,007 sq ft.

The proposal is for a 15,161 sq ft house.

Mr. Heagney said that calculation was reviewed and approved by the Zoning Enforcement Officer.

“The property is partially developed with a road and two bridges,” Heagney said. “It has man made tidal ponds and a dock.”

Tree Removal

The application noted a total of 617 existing trees, and the applicant seeks to remove 175 of them.

In turn, 153 trees and 1,086 shrubs would be planted.

The applicant is also proposing to plant a pollinator meadow on top of the proposed septic location, which would be mowed only a few times a year.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban, said, “When you talked to Conservation, there was disagreement – a differing of opinion – between the narrative of the landscape plan and how Conservation saw the trees. The intent of the designer is to transform the overstory plant community into understory and shrubland.”

“Conservation’s comment is that the overstory came naturally and belongs there, and that those large trees belong there,” Alban added. “You’re losing canopy.”

“There are hundreds of trees (the applicant is) retaining,” Mr. Heagney said.

“We are trying hard to maintain the vegetation and canopy cover. You know we’re working on regulations to do that. Right now we’re just asking for good faith efforts,” Alban said.

In response to other Conservation comments,” Heagney said, “They’re looking for us to relocate geothermal wells proposed as part of the development. We’re looking to set up a meeting with them.”

During public comment Laura di Bonaventura, an alternate on the Conservation Commission who was commenting in her capacity as a private citizen, shared several environmental concerns.

Ms Di Bonavantura, who also chairs the First Selectman’s Energy Management Advisory Committee (EMAC), referred to the property as “an ecological treasure.”

With climate change and storms, the property could eventually become an island.

“A 10 percent storm would cut off all access to a property like this,” di Bonaventura said.

In Greenwich, the town is already planning for 20 inches of sea level rise, and ever-more intense rainfall and runoff. A 15,000+ sq ft building’s coastal septic system could fail, and result in requests for public sewer access at the Town’s expense, or expectations of emergency services when access is questionable.

Tree cutting legend: black circles indicate existing tree. Red circles indicate trees to be cut and X indicates dead tree.
The application is for a Final Coastal Site Plan and Special Permit to construct a new single family dwelling, pool and cabana in excess of 150,000 cubic ft in volume in the RA-2 zone. The applicant proposes to construct a new single family dwelling with parking court, underground parking, pool, patio, terrace and asphalt driveway. A majority of the proposed construction, including the main dwelling and terrace, is within the central area of Parcel ‘A ’ and within the ‘X’ flood zone. The proposed pool and patio would be in the AE-14 flood zone.
Youtube video marketing the property for sale.

There was some discussion about drainage, particularly in the garage, which will be underground.

Heagney said his client was working with the topography of the site, which goes from 8 and increases to 14.

“The garage is at elevation 14. We’re looking to have the first floor at 25 or 26. We think that the drainage can be handled,” Heagney said. “I can think of one house in Belle Haven where the garage which is larger than this is actually below the flood elevations and is in a flood zone.”

“That particular garage is waterproofed. We all remember it,” said P&Z director Katie DeLuca.

“In my opinion, in a bad storm or heavy tide we’re going to get water in the basement,” said commissioner Nick Macri. “But that’s the property owner’s issue.”

Commissioner Arne Welles asked about the tidal ponds.

“The causeway is 8 ft up, and we’re seeing high tides of 7 and 8 ft, and expect another foot and a half of water rise up to 2050, but you say there’s no plans to increase the height of the causeway or some type of seawall to protect the road?” Welles asked.

Mr. Heagney said DEEP gave no comments on the site plan.

However, the applicant will need DEEP approval to improve the access way, which collapsed after a series of storms.

Alban said it will be important for the applicant to work with DEEP to improve the access way to accommodate trucks during construction.

Ms di Bonaventura said formal regulations to incentivize energy efficiency and adapt to climate change were in the works, and that the P&Z could take them into account now.

She said the proposal comes at a time when laws are changing.

She noted Public Act 21-29 was recently passed, empowering P&Z commissions to mandate or incentivize energy efficiency measures and renewable power uses.

She also mentioned Governor Lamont’s December 16 executive order 21-3 directing Connecticut agencies to implement actions that reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate crisis.

“So it’s very clear that more aggressive energy efficiency and renewable power use expectations in various forms should be anticipated by the commission,” she added. “And there is no reason why the commission could not take that into account now, even in the absence of formal regulations.”

“There is in Connecticut legislation, statements regarding a 20-inch sea level rise by 2050, and the expectation that even a 10% would storm could cut off all access to a property such as this.”

A 10-year storm refers to a storm capable of producing rainfall expected to be equaled or exceeded on average of once in 10 years. It may also be expressed as an exceedance probability with a 10% chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year.

“I can in no way overstate the ecological importance of this parcel,” di Bonaventura said. “I will respectfully take issue of Mr. Heagney’s characterization of the parcel having a fair amount of development.”

In an email after the meeting she said she wanted to correct any impression of the site having been developed.

“One might consider the lagoons ‘man made by a resident’ in the sense that they likely came after 1640. Or that a dock constitutes development,” she wrote. “The place tells a different story.”

During the meeting, di Bonaventura said she had kayaked off the peninsula and referred to its “rich, diverse pristine beauty.”

“It is what Greenwich Point would be had it been left undisturbed,” she continued. “In this 8 acres, there is a diversity of coastal habitats that’s almost unseen along the Greenwich coast. There are coastal forests, coastal grasslands, inner tidal flats, submerged aquatic vegetation beds, shellfish reefs, tidal wetlands all enumerated in the conservation commission’s report. With that ecological significance. I urge the commission to do their utmost to ensure the property owner meets at a minimum and ideally exceeds expectations.”

“In its current state, it is an ecological treasure. I appreciate that a private owner was well within their rights to do that, but I urge us to protect what we can.”

– Laura di Bonaventura

Ms di Bonaventura said the tree count mattered less than the diameter and biomass of the trees being removed.

“The proposal removes every single tree greater than 10-inches in diameter and replaces them with much smaller diameter and lower lying plantings. It is not a one-for-one relationship.”

Second, she talked about the condition of the roadway, was was recently damaged by Ida.

“It is a wonderful example of what could be anticipated in terms of future storm water pollution and runoff in what is already acknowledged to be a flood hazard zone,” she said, going on to list heavy metals, cadmium, lithium and lead that vehicle tailpipes leaves behind on asphalt.

She said storm water runoff would impact both water and soil.

“The risk of that storm water pollution immediately into recreation waters is significant,” she said, adding that the pool spa mechanicals had been identified by the Conservation Commission as encroaching in their current proposed placement.

“My overall point is given the ecological vitality and importance of this site, preserving as much of that as possible would behoove us and future generations,” she added.

Energy Profile

Ms di Bonaentura said the load demands of a project of this scale would be considerable and that energy efficiency and clean power goals were significant.

“It is twice the size of the threshold level for special permitting requirements, so one can anticipate fuel and energy demands of considerable size,” she said. “Even with a geothermal system, given its location it needs to anticipate significant outages. There must be a generator solution – I didn’t see (information on the project’s total energy use and efficiency) in any of the publicly available materials.”

“Noise carries over water. What is now the sound of birds, and water lapping against an empty beach will become the rattling of a generator that will carry for miles unless that is specced out accordingly.”

In the high likelihood of power loss and the heavy load demands, it puts additional importance and pressure on the energy efficiency profile of the structure. That’s where I felt the materials available to the public were woefully silent,” she continued. “There are builders in our community skilled and knowledgeable at creating such energy efficient structures that they can go all electric and require very small backup generation capacity. I urge you to request from the applicant an energy modeling report and to hold them to the governor’s and 21-29’s stated ambitions. “

“In its current state it is an ecological treasure. I appreciate that a private owner was well within their rights to do that, but I urge us to protect what we can.”

“We’ll take all of this under advisement,” Mr. Heagney said.

“I’m sure you read through (the governor’s) Executive Order 21-3 from Dec 16, 2021. That’s what he’s directed these state agencies to do.That’s the handwriting on the wall. It’s a good idea,” Alban said.

“We do show 18 geothermal wells here, which I believe are sufficient to heat and cool the house with much less energy,” Heagney replied.

“In the absence of regulations today, whatever you can put on the table is very welcome,” Ms Alban said.

The item was left open and will return on an upcoming P&Z agenda.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Laura vi Bonaventura was commenting as a private citizen, not on behalf of the Conservation Commission.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect recent sales of the parcels: Two parcels at 000 Indian Field Rd sold on August 27, 2021 from Il Mandorlo LLC to Mead Point LLC for $36,750,000.

Prior to that the parcels sold from Meads Point Land Co c/o Haebler to Il Mandorlo LLC on Nov 30, 2015 for $35,000,000.

See also:

Lamont Signs Directs State Agencies To Take Significant Actions to Reduce Carbon Emissions, Adapt to Climate Crisis Dec 16, 2021

Pat Sesto: Today’s Nuisance Flooding May Be Tomorrow’s High Tide Jan 2020