On Tuesday the Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission voted on a controversial application for a single family home over 150,000 cubic feet in volume, plus pool and cabana at the end of Indian Field Road on a peninsula in Mead Point.
During several public hearings the significance of the pristine peninsula was a theme. Laura di Bonaventura described the property as an ecological treasure.
“It is what Greenwich Point would be had it been left undisturbed,” she said. “There are coastal forests, coastal grasslands, inner tidal flats, submerged aquatic vegetation beds, shellfish reefs and tidal wetlands.”
Along the way the applicant agreed to several modifications to protect the environment, but an issue that came up late in the application process concerned access to a tidal pond.
Initially DEEP had submitted a “no-comment email” regarding the proposed development.
But after questions about use of the tidal pond and investigation into the development history of the site, DEEP’s Brian Thompson, director of the Land & Water Resources Division, wrote a letter on March 29 saying the tidal pond was part of the public trust.
Thompson said that while there was no record of a causeway being authorized, in 2013 there was permission to retain riprap and for work to and around the bridge at the causeway.
“Even if the causeway had been authorized, such authorization would likely not have created a new privately-owned tidal waterbody, particularly since the vast majority of it was not created by excavating private land.”
Mr. Thompson’s letter said the area within the tidal pond was part of Long Island Sound and was within the state’s public trust area and should, therefore, remain accessible to the public.
He said the property owner should work with the town to ensure continued access to the public trust waters enclosed by the causeway. Also he wrote, “Appropriate signage may be required to ensure that the areas of private land and waters are firmly identified to define the limits of public areas.”
After the commission discussed the tidal pond, commissioner Arn Welles suggested going a step further.
“Where is the authorization for that bridge?” he asked.
“There isn’t one and there will never be,” Alban said. “You’re saying you want the bridge removed?”
“Absolutely,” Mr. Welles said. “Let’s allow the public to get in there. (Commissioner) Peter Levy already said you can’t get in there against the tide. And when the tide is up you can’t get underneath.”
Commissioners Peter Lowe and Dennis Yeskey supported the condition that the bridge be removed.
“You can put in signage that this is public waters, but that begs the question of getting here,” Mr. Levy said, adding that if the bridge were to be removed, the public could access the tidal pond by kayak.
Ms Alban clarified that it was not the riprap proposed to be removed. “We’re just talking about the bridge,” she said. “The little red wooden bridge.”
“That bridge blocks, and makes it look like it’s private property and not open to the public,” she said.
“It is an absolute deterrent to the public, and the public owns that space. Period,” Mr. Lowe said.
The commission added conditions that the bridge be removed prior to issuance of a zoning permit and that signage be created.
“The commission further finds that the existing bridge connecting the unpermitted causeway to the rest of the property is a deterrent to public access and shall be removed prior to zoning permit.”
Also: “There shall be no signs claiming the public area is private. The applicant is further required to work with P&Z staff and agree on a means of notifying the public of its use rights.”
Other conditions of approval included preserving and maintaining a vegetative buffer of salt-tolerant, predominantly native species, and to preserve the natural environment and open space and other features, as well as the preserve architectural and historical/cultural assets.
Also, “The applicant shall submit the final tree assessment and protection plan to P&Z staff for review, submit a full report and protection plan for the greatest conservation needs species that potentially use the site for breeding or during migration. This report is to be prepared by a qualified biologist who has surveyed the woodlands for song birds, and the beachfront for Oyster Catchers and nesting Terrapins during their breeding season. Finally, the applicant shall follow the recommendations of archaeologist Ernest Wiegand in his report dated February 26, 2022.”