The application to designate a loop around the northern portion of Binney Park as a scenic road was last heard at P&Z’s June 30 meeting where it was left open so that the applicant could return with additional information on two central questions.
At this week’s P&Z meeting, postponed to Wednesday due to the Tropical Storm, the application returned, and two issues emerged.
The applicants, Rita Baker and Candace Garthwaite, were well prepared with their arguments.
The first issue was what defines “intensive vehicular traffic?”
Second, the Commission wasn’t certain whether Greenwich’s Town Charter requires one contiguous .5 mile stretch of a particular road, or whether it is acceptable to connect segments from three different roads to total a minimum of .5 miles as proposed.
The proposed scenic loop has three segments including a portion of Sound Beach Ave, Arch Street and Wesskum Wood.
There were 73 attendees on Zoom and a number of residents spoke in favor of the idea, in addition to Ms Baker and Ms Garthwaite.
The applicants have extensive support among residents of Old Greenwich, and have pointed out that in the past residents had learned of municipal projects by chance.
“Our goal for this application is, and always has been, to codify
protection of the roadway loop and its right of way,” Garthwaite said, adding that a Historic District Designation would not protect the roadway, and the majority of the abutting homes are neither historic, nor would neighbors do not want the restrictions of a Historic District designation.
Ms Garthwaite pointed out that the public had asked for, but did not receive a public hearing for the upcoming Sound Beach bridge replacement and 2.5 ft roadway elevation. Residents asked for, but had not received renderings showing the impact of the elevation change on the surrounding area.
She said residents want to have input in a transparent process when significant changes to the roadway are proposed.
They noted that there is no MI for these types of roadway changes. Nor is the RTM involved.
To be designated a scenic road, it has to be free of “intensive traffic,” but a relevant definition of intensive has been elusive.
Garthwaite and Baker disputed the report of the town’s traffic consultant, BETA Group, who said, “The vehicular traffic along Sound Beach Ave could be reasonably thought of as intensive.”
They said BETA overcounted cars. The applicants did their own traffic counts, multiple times, using volunteers, and added up traffic counts on the three parts of the loop and divided by three.
Commissioner Nick Macri defended BETA. “They are the experts. That’s why we have them as consultants,” he said.
During public comment, Craig Amundsen said the the scenic road designation was being misapplied in this case.
“This is designed to slow down the project to repair and replace the bridge in front of Perrot Library,” he said. “It must be repaired and rebuilt. It is deteriorating to the point that weight restrictions are a real possibility and could prevent fire trucks from going over it.”
Phil Dodson questioned the applicant’s goal of the public having “a seat at the table,” saying the new P&Z pre application process would provide a seat at the table in future, and therefore a scenic road designation was unnecessary.
He also said it was wrong for the applicant to ask the commission to ignore the traffic consultant’s recommendation, describing the applicant’s traffic count as “creative math.”
Longtime Old Greenwich resident Ann Sawyer disagreed. “I’m frustrated over the length of time given to the traffic statistics when the really important statistics is the overwhelming public support. …Any road surrounding a body of water would likely have different sections to it, so I don’t understand the focus on that? “
Judith Gordon, was also frustrated. “We’re splitting hairs over some of the details that have been laid out by Rita and Candace,” she said.
Margot Mabie noted that the POCD called for more scenic roads throughout the town, and that Greenwich only has five, of which four above the Merritt Parkway, and one just below it.
“If we want scenic roads throughout the town, we have to acknowledge that because of density, many roads below and just above the Post Road have more traffic than, say, Burying Hill Rd….I myself don’t see intensive traffic here. But if this application is denied because of traffic that will be a blow to the goal of designating more scenic roads throughout the town,” she said.
Liz Peldunas of Riverside described the scenic loop as “one of our crown jewels in Greenwich,” and said the gemstones around the setting – First Congregational Church, Perrot Library and Binney Park itself – are enhanced by the road.
“Approving the application allows us to protect the asset in perpetuity, and establishes an efficient decision making process for significant improvements to the road itself,” Peldunas said.
“This is a community effort to protect the distinctive character of Old Greenwich and Riverside. Is it going to fail on the basis of an undefined term and traffic count that we can’t agree on?” Garthwaite asked, adding that the town code strikes a balance between safety and preserving the character of the road, and is stated in the POCD as a guiding principle.
“You make the decision. Let’s protect this beloved roadway, and let’s show all of Greenwich that the language in the new POCD means something,” Garthwaite said. “Give us the means to protect our community character and our sense of place. Let’s just get it done.”
Commissioner Dave Hardman said despite some “doubts” on the part of Mr. Dodson and Mr. Amundson, “On balance this case is much stronger than I felt even yesterday, and I think the research and the convincing manner it was presented along with guidelines and vision statements in the POCD are very important in making this decision.”
Commissioner Victoria Goss said she believed the commission was on “firm legal footing,” if it were to decide to approve the application.
Commissioner Peter Lowe said he wanted to leave the application open.
“I would like to review the presentation more closely,” Alban said, adding that the question of the wording of the town charter neeed to be weighed carefully given the presentation and evidence presented.
The item was closed though there was no vote, and the commission said it would remain open for written comments.