Selectmen: More Information Needed on Scenic Road Proposal for Binney Park

On Thursday about two dozen residents turned out to support the idea of a proposed Scenic Road designation for a .6 mile loop in Old Greenwich, around the northern part of Binney Park.

Candace Garthwaite, who has spearheaded the effort along with Rita Baker, noted that one of the Town’s POCD’s objectives is to encourage the designation of more scenic roads in town.

She noted that the idea was suggested in the first place by P&Z back in 2018 when DPW proposed a large rotary by the Perrot Library.

At the time, neighbors came out in force to oppose the rotary.

It was suggested that if there was a Scenic Road designation that might have protected the existing, smaller rotary that residents are so fond of.

Since the Scenic Road ordinance was adopted in 1992, five local roads have received the designation: Cliffdale Road, Burying Hill Road, Selden Lane, Buckfield Lane, and Sawmill Lane.

This proposed Scenic Road in Old Greenwich would be the Town’s first south of the Merritt Parkway.

Garthwaite noted that might set an encouraging precedent for Scenic Roads around other parks in the future.

“If we achieve the scenic road designation, it could have an impact on other important and beautiful roads such as the roadway around and through Bruce Park,” Garthwaite said.

The Town Charter’s preamble states:

Scenic Roads are irreplaceable resources, the destruction of which has had and will have an adverse impact on the town’s historic and scenic heritage.

A Scenic Road application requires endorsement by owners of a majority of
property that abuts this proposed scenic loop, and Garthwaite said that all of them gave written approvals except two who rent their properties.

They also received signed written approval from the Perrot Library and the First Congregational Church.

Cars drive past The First Congregational Church on Sound Beach Ave in Old Greenwich. Dec 11, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

Cars drive past The First Congregational Church on Sound Beach Ave in Old Greenwich. Dec 11, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

“We just need your help,” Garthwaite said of the requirement of the Selectmen’s blessing to go ahead and submit the application.

Nancy Chapin who is a member of the Binney Park Advisory committee asked how the Scenic Road might impact her committee’s ability to do work including planting trees.

Garthwaite said while a Historic District designation has an impact on homeowners, a Scenic Road designation does not impact a neighboring property whatsoever.

“Owners of properties on scenic roads preserve their property rights, including the town,” she said.

Garthwaite said P&Z that has the authority to designate scenic roads, but in order to get the proposal before them, the Selectmen would need to put the item on the RTM Call to seek their approval, which would allow Garthwaite’s group to pay the $1,200 application fee and submit the application to P&Z.

If approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Scenic Road would then have to be approved by the RTM.

“It’s fine to preserve architecture, but it’s also important to preserve settings.” – Paul Pugliese, Greenwich Preservation Trust

Paul Pugliesi founding member of the Greenwich Preservation Trust and 30 + year member of the town’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC), said the previous night ARC had agreed that town character and  preservation of history are reflected not just in buildings, but in scenic landscape.

“We want it to move forward in a public forum so that we can all discuss this and add a little bit of protection,” Pugliese said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t make traffic and safety improvements. It’s almost like a historic designation.”

“So often when I go to the Perrot Library to drop off or pick up a book, I have to stop on the Perrot steps and admire the unique view of Binney Park…the glistening water, the arched stone bridges, and elegant trees and lawn.

It truly is a treasure and right across the street is the First Congregation Church established in 1665.

 – Candace Garthwaite

Garthwaite said she had hoped the application could be placed on the March RTM Call.

Unfortunately, First Selectman Camillo said one of the town attorneys had advised holding off due to concerns.

“Nothing is as easy as it seems,” Camillo said. “It seems DPW had an issue. Zoning has had an issue with this designation, and attorney Wetmore from the Law Dept weighed in regarding the intense vehicular component of this….Three different entities had serious concerns about it.”

Rotary in front of Perrot Library on Sound Beach Ave. Dec 11, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

Rotary in front of Perrot Library on Sound Beach Ave. Dec 11, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

Garthwaite said the real discussions around pros and cons should take place in front of P&Z.

“We’re asking for transparency,” she said.

Dept of Public Works deputy commissioner Jim Michel refuted any implication of lack of transparency.

He said most DPW projects are subject to public hearings, and any major redesign of a roadway goes before P&Z.

“There are checks and balances in place. …We try not to work our projects in this cloud of secrecy.” – DPW Deputy Commissioner James Michel

Allan Lovejoy said, “We’re asking you to ask the RTM for permission to sign as an abutter and then let the P&Z do its job. The RTM has to approve for Fred to sign.”

Since Binney Park is the majority abutter, Garthwaite said there is a need for the Selectmen to sign on behalf of the town.

“We need the town’s signature in addition to the church, library and 13 neighbors that all signed,” she said.

Selectperson Jill Oberlander said she was generally sympathetic to the request, and the mission of protecting scenic beauty, but that the board was newly formed and should take time to gather pros and cons and consider unintended consequences. “I don’t have enough information to vote on it,” she said.

Oberlander tied the Scenic Road conversation in with the approval earlier in the meeting of a Parks & Rec fee hike for the banner across the top of Greenwich Avenue.

She said she hoped for a townwide discussion on a commercial advertising policy, particularly the advertising along Greenwich Avenue, and what it does to the character of Greenwich’s civic beauty.

“I encourage you to all come out when we weigh in on townwide advertising, and commercial advertising policy and what it does to the character of our communities.” – Selectperson Jill Oberlander

In the end, the board declined to move the request along, for now.

“It wasn’t a no,” Camillo said. “I give you my word we will follow up with (town attorney) and Katie (DeLuca, P&Z director), and work with Dept of Public works. We’re fundamentally with you on this.”

Camillo said the proposal would likely it will be back on the agenda at the next Board of Selectmen meeting, and rather than have it on the RTM Call for March, it might not be until April.

Connecticut’s General Statutes Scenic Roads section says, “Any town, city or borough may, by ordinance, designate highways or portions of highways as scenic roads.”

Greenwich’s Municipal code Chapter 11, article 3 preamble talks about the value of Scenic Roads.

“Scenic roads are irreplaceable resources, the destruction of which has had and will have an adverse impact on the town’s historic and scenic heritage. The purpose of this Article is to establish standards and procedures for designating town highways [1] or portions thereof as scenic roads and for regulating and preserving the town’s scenic roads for the benefit of present and future generations.

See also:

Residents on Bridge Fix and Raised Rotary in Old Greenwich: “Fix the Railroad Culvert, Not the Rotary!” March 8, 2018

P&Z Watch: Scenic Road Designation for .6 Mile Loop around Binney Pond Discussed Dec 12, 2019