On Tuesday, the Planning & Zoning commission reviewed two non-binding pre applications for housing developments under Connecticut’s 8-30g affordable housing statute.
One was for a 5 story, 86-unit building at 5 Brookridge, which is in the R20 single family zone near Greenwich High School and the busy intersection of Indian Field/Stanwich and Rte 1. Concerns focused on storm water flooding and whether the development could have access to town sewers.
The second application was for a 3-1/2 story, 27-unit building at the corner of 111 Mill Street and 9 South Water Street, across from Macelleria in Byram.
The existing building is home to Byram Smoke Shop, which would reopen on the ground floor of the new building and be joined by a gym next door. Parking would be provided for the commercial use, but not for the 27 units.
The commission had concerns about traffic and parking.
The application relies on the William Street municipal lot behind Rosina’s for parking for the 27 residential units.
“We believe this is a significant issue to any resident in the building in terms of safety, of them being able to lead normal lives,” said P&Z chair Margarita Alban.
“You are not a TOD (transit oriented) development,” she added. “You are not close enough to the Port Chester train station.”
The applicant would have to get approval from the Board of Selectmen to use the William Street parking lot.
“That parking lot, in our experience, is always very crowded, especially on weekends,” Alban said.
Ms Alban noted the applicant’s proposal did not include ADA parking on site for residents.
“That is a major issue. You have to, by law, provide that. Parking does rise to a safety issue.”
Mr. O’Donnell said he was open to rethinking parking flow, possibly eliminating the proposed retail and replace it with “some pedestal form of building that would have parking and eliminate the smoke shop and gym.
“That would increase the bulk,” he said. “But we could step back the upper floors to reduce the loom.”
“All we can do is address issues that exceed the need for affordable housing,” Alban said. “I would suggest that you look at a 6-110 (the town’s moderate income “workforce” housing reg).
Commissioner Nick Macri said using the municipal lot would require a Municipal Improvement.
“My experience is that lot is used constantly, overnight by neighbors, during the day and evenings by retail and restaurants,” he said. “The loss of any existing public parking would be a real blow to the local economy and put even more stress on the neighbors and residents of Byram.”
He noted that the application did not spell out how many affordable units would be included in the project, in exchange for permission to build.
“What is the benefit to Greenwich, to Byram, in terms of affordable housing?” he asked. “What are the upsides and potential negative impacts. It’s almost an idea of sitting down with a blank page and thinking about different ideas. Even reaching out to the neighborhood, the BNA, and see what they’re thinking.”
Macri noted that Byram already had two smoke shops. “What else does Byram really need? What would Byram benefit from having?”
“The parking is a humongous issue,” Macri added. “Discussions with other applicants in the area brought that to our attention.”
Parking comes at a premium in Byram.
Parking was the main issue at the Dec 21, 2021 P&Z meeting when the Macelleria Italian Steakhouse came in with an application for an outdoor dining deck for 75 patrons.
Near the opposite corner, Famous Greek Kitchen came in with an application for 20 outdoor seats in 2019. Because the site was parking deficient, they came to an arrangement to offer valet parking in which restaurant patrons drive down Armonk Street and turn into the parking lot behind FGK. The FGK owners also own the lot with a pharmacy across the street. When the pharmacy is closed, the restaurant uses that parking lot for overflow.
Al Shehadi, the chair of the BNA land use committee, said the applicant’s attorney Casey O’Donnell had reached out to him earlier in the day, which he appreciated.
However, he said, “Headline news which I don’t think would surprise anybody is the BNA is strongly opposed to this project.”
Mr. Shehadi said he understood 111 Mill St was a lot line building, which “activates the street” rather than one with a parking lot in front, but he said the building was grossly oversized and needed a “strong rethink.”
“We feel this is completely out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. It is 10 feet taller, and a full story than what is allowed. It is five times the FAR that is allowed,” he said. “We would want to see something more scaled back.”
Mr. Shehadi said the BNA would prefer the retail use to wrap around the corner onto South Water Street.
“We want to see more foot traffic in Byram, and having ground floor retail is one of the best ways to do it,” he said.
“Parking is the elephant in the room,” Shehadi said. “We disabused the owner of any assumption that the generous people of Byram will gladly provide parking for free on already overcrowded public lots on nearby streets.”
“If I was the developer of this project, I would be scratching my head as to whether I’d be able to market these as affordable, or market rate without any parking,” Mr. Shehadi said. “You are not going to be able to rent apartments unless they are substantially below market if somebody has to park four or five blocks away, or do what they do in New York City, where they are circling blocks for a half hour to find a space.”
Mr. Shehadi said the applicant’s aerial photo from 2019 showed the municipal lot 90% full. He said there was no ability to accommodate cars from 27 residential units.
Further, he said the aerial photo was out of date.
“Byram now has two new restaurants, a new dance studio and hopefully a new pizza place. So there is additional traffic from those new uses,” said Matt Popp, landscape architect who lives nearby.
Mr. Popp suggested the site be located further back from the busy intersection of Mill St and Water Street.
“I don’t think you can have a dead-end parking lot on the site. If the parking is full, someone drives in and they can’t turn around or they’re backing out over the sidewalk into the road again.”
P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban agreed.
“Getting out of the parking lot would be hard,” she said.
She said while recently reviewing and approving an 8-30g with retail on the ground floor, the commercial was not part of 8-30g and not exempt from providing parking.
“As we’re interpreting the 8-30g statutes, they apply only to a residential development. Therefore, the commercial space in an 8-30g has to be fully complaint with our zoning regulations. That is the precedent we have set. You don’t get any kind of bonus on commercial.”
Joe Kantorski of the BNA said his organization was concerned with quality of life in Byram.
“We will let Mr. O’Donnell and his client know exactly where we stand,” he said.
The commission was not in favor of the development using the municipal lot on William Street, but Alban noted they did not have authority over the use of the town parking lot.
That would have to be approved by the Board of Selectmen.
The commission had some suggestions for the applicant, including other below market rate types of housing, such as moderate or “workforce” housing.
Alban asked Mr. O’Donnell to continue to talk to Ms DeLuca and Mr. Larow for feedback.
She also encouraged O’Donnell and his client to meet with the BNA.