P&Z Watch: Vote on King Street Cluster Housing Delayed after Neighbors Report Clear Cutting, Flooding

The last P&Z meeting featured an application to develop a 19+ acre property on the east side of King Street in back country.

The applicant is proposing to remove an existing house and barn and to develop the property in a cluster approach.

Proposed are five large houses ranging from almost 9,000 sq ft to 10,000+ sq ft. The gated development would also feature pools, patios, and a community greenhouse, shed and tennis court.

The applicant is seeking a zone change from RA-4 to the RA-CC4-Zone. That zone has only been used once, decades ago, to develop Chieftans.

Specifically, they want a conservation subdivision to apply to a property with a minimum of 10-acres while protecting at least 60% of the land in a conservation easement. Currently the minimum is 50 acres.

Over 11 acres of conservation space would be adjacent to the Audubon.

To the south of the property is Chieftans. To the east is the Audubon. To north is the Convent of Sacred Heart. To the west are Greenwich Woods, single family properties and farms.

“What’s going on with the clear cutting on your property and trees being removed on Audubon property?”

– Margarita Alban, chair of Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission

It wasn’t until well into the meeting that P&Z chair Margarita Alban said neighbors had sent in photos of large piles of wood chips and video of flooding, and that the commission had learned of clear cutting on the property and on adjacent property at the Audubon.

Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Contributed photo

Mr. Heagney said there had been a dozen meetings with the town, including several with Wetlands who approved the application, three with the Conservation Commission who voted to support the site plan and rezoning, two meetings with the Architectural Review Committee who recommended changes to the landscape plan, quantity and size of trees to be planted and meetings with the town engineer and DPW, who approved a more narrow roadway than the standard 22 foot wide one, based on it primarily serving just five houses.

He said the plan would preserve open space, including a meadow at the center of the site.

Also, Heagney suggested the application met purposes of the POCD, though Ms Alban said those might be less pertinent than the goals of the conservation zone.

Heagney said they were meeting all criteria for a conservation cluster zone, including preserving unique habitats for wildlife, protecting wetlands, preserving upland buffer areas, preserving steep slopes, preserving forest areas and significant trees including a large unique Elm Tree. Also the houses can’t be seen from the roadway. They are also providing a management plan for the meadow.

Alban said she was “on the fence” about the application.

“These houses are so big relative to what I see as the goals of the conservation zone,” she said.

“What’s going on with the clear cutting on your property and trees being removed on Audubon property?” she asked.

Mr. Heagney said in the existing residential zone, with special permits, permitted uses were much greater than residential. “We can have health care facilities, schools, farms, commercial nurseries, houses of worship…”

“You are not going to convince me you are doing a good thing by telling me about the bad things you aren’t doing,” Alban said.

Heagney said the property had been neglected for years and vines had either severely impacted or killed trees.

“Many of them were leaning over. This has been a vacant property for along time. It attracts people wanting to explore it. My client was concerned about safety and injury,” he said.

“Tell your client that there is no clear cutting once an application has been filed with the commission for a site plan, and there is certainly no tree removal on the neighbor’s property, which is what we’re hearing happened,” Alban said.

Heagney said as soon as he became aware of the tree cutting, it stopped.

The commission noted that access for horses had been blocked by stones. Mr. Heagney said the applicant would remove the stones.

He said the applicant had thought the stone wall was on the property line. He said there is a restoration plan for the trees removed on Audubon property, and for portions of the stone wall be preserved.

He said part of the confusion was the property had been surveyed but not staked.

Alban asked for as much of the stone wall as possible to be preserved, and for the applicant to specify exactly which sections.

The applicant was told to check with the neighboring property owner before putting plantings on their property, and that of course they could not put trees in the horse trail.

“This lack of clarity about your boundaries is very concerning,” Alban said.

Mr. Levy said the five houses looked like they were in a development, rather than in a conservation zone.

“The idea of being out in the country, in a bucolic setting is certainly walled off by this string of houses,” he said. “They’re something incongruous about it.”

During public comment Suzie Jarvis, a resident of Chieftans, said a house there that was formerly a horse barn, had been almost inundated with water the previous week.

“It was very serious, and they’ve never had this before. And particularly since the clearing was done, we’re very concerned over here,” she said, adding there was concern about several properties in Chieftans.

She said the flood water was deep and “like a huge lake,” and that it would have flooded two of the proposed houses, had they been built.

She said the water came across the driveway and lawn, and all the way up to the back door of no .11 Chieftans.

Engineer Andrew White for the applicant said he’d observed the applicant’s property. He talked about broken drainage pipes and clogged swales.

“We believe the wetland was de-watered at some point in the past 100 years,” Mr. White said, adding that when the meadow was mowed some of the storm drainage was likely damaged.

Ms Alban asked, “Who would have put storm drainage in a meadow if it hadn’t been a problem?”

Mr. White said he thought the meadow might have been de-watered for paddocks.

Alban said she was concerned about the long term viability of the wetland.

The application was a “must close,” but Ms Alban said she was not ready to make a decision, and said protecting the wetlands and impact to adjacent neighbors were serious concerns.

She said before any approval she wanted to create conditions regarding off site flooding and wetlands.

“We need to look very closely at the overall soil and erosion plan, and the building sign off process,” DeLuca said.

“My ask is that we get from staff and DPW the very specific guidance on conditions that might be added if this application were to be approved,” Alban said. “This is of great concern.”

The application was closed, but no vote was taken.