Six-Story, 110 Unit Affordable Housing Development Would Be a Stone’s Throw from Greenwich Ave

This week a new pre application was submitted to Planning & Zoning for a 110-unit residential development in the area of Benedict Court and Benedict Place (behind St Mary Church on Greenwich Ave).

The development would be located on 12 parcels of land. The existing buildings, mostly historic houses and former carriage houses being rented out for offices, residences and some retail, would be demolished. The addresses of the existing properties are: 0, 5, 7, 11, 13, and 15 Benedict Court and 7, 9, 15, 19, 21 and 23 Benedict Place.

For example, 13 Benedict Court, just 891 sq ft, was built in 1910. Next door, 11 Benedict Court, also built in 1910, is 1,600 sq ft. Built in 1980, 15 Benedict Court, stands out for its modern design and height compared the row of carriage houses.

The development will not include 3 Benedict Court. Built in 2014, the single family house was recently advertised as a rental for $6,500 a month.

Ten of the parcels are owned by Benedict Court Development Co LLC (which is registered to Joseph A Tranfo, Joseph C Tranfo and Jane Tranfo,) and two are owned by 19 West Elm Holdings LLC (Agent Jesse Sammis III) and 7 Benedict Place Associates LLC (registered to Mary Jo Whelan). Twining Properties of New York City and Cambridge, MA is teaming with Benedict Court Development on the project.

The proposal would designate 30% of the 110 residences as affordable per, 8-30g’s, the state’s affordable housing statute.

There would be a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, lifestyle amenity space,” multiple outdoor greenspaces and a below grade parking garage with 190 spaces.

On its face, the proposal ticks all the boxes for 8-30g.

The area is served by public water, sewer and gas. It is close to public transportation, including the Greenwich train station and I95, as well as other community resources including the library, hospital, YMCA, town hall, schools and parks.

And, per the narrative submitted by attorney Chip Haslun on behalf of the applicant, “The proposed building is intended to be responsive to the 2019 POCD in that it would be an ‘infill’ development on underutilized land, would add diversity to the housing stock and would considerably increase the number of affordable dwelling units in Greenwich.”

“Due to its central location, we believe the development will be attractive to those looking to down-size, to young professionals, and to workforce employees such as hospital workers, teachers and first responders, both currently residing in Greenwich and looking to relocated to Greenwich,” Haslun said.

This is not the first proposal to P&Z to develop properties on Benedict Place and Benedict Court.

Joseph Tranfo addressed the P&Z commission on Dec 12. His team includes attorney Ted O'Hanlan and Anne Campbell of Robinson & Cole and Mark Sardegna, AIA of Elkus-Manfredi Architects. The civil engineers are Tighe & Bond and the surveyor is Tony D'Andrea.
Joseph Tranfo addressed the P&Z commission. Then chair Richard Maitland at left, Dec 12, 2017. Photo: Leslie Yager

Back in 2017 and 2018, Benedict Court Development Co LLC proposed text changes to the Central Greenwich Impact Overlay Zone (CGIO). That CGIO zone exists on maps of downtown, but its regulations, created in 1982, were never fully fleshed out.

The text amendment would have granted a developer additional building rights for height, bulk and uses in exchange for a public benefit such as affordable housing, a public park, public parking, and infrastructure improvements.

Joe Tranfo, who presented the application to the commission, proposed a 70-unit residential development spread over three buildings of varying heights (a 4-story, a 5-story and a 6-story), and amenities including two underground levels of parking, with one for the town to use in an arrangement similar to an easement. About a dozen units were proposed to be “affordable.”

At the time, Mr. Tranfo said the development – whether rentals or condos – would have a theme of ‘aging in place.’

Part of the proposal was to transform the existing 77 spot municipal lot on Lewis Street and Benedict Place into a green passive park and replace the spots lost with underground parking. The applicant’s proposal also featured a 5,000 sq ft indoor community gathering space.

At the time, then P&Z chair Richard Maitland said that the ‘ask’ for incentives, including building height and floor area ratio was “tremendous.”

There was also concern that the new zone would open up potential for other developers to assemble a cluster of properties as has Benedict Court Development and “urbanize” Greenwich.

P&Z director Katie DeLuca noted at the time that downtown was losing population, and the concept of adding residential units was good in that sense.

Some commissioners worried about a slippery slope.

Commissioner Yeskey said, “Greenwich really hasn’t had a major redevelopment over the last 40 years. That’s why everybody wants to develop here. …We don’t want Westchester urbanization.”

Mr. Maitland said White Plains had started with a redevelopment close to their train station, then added a mall and, later, a Sears and office buildings.  “It started as simple and then multiplied,” he warned.

Of course, much has changed since 2018.

The original application, which was ultimately withdrawn, was prior to the pandemic, which has resulted in a flood of new residents throughout town and a renaissance of Greenwich Avenue. At the time of the earlier proposal there were about 30 vacant storefronts on Greenwich Avenue. Today the Avenue is bustling with pedestrians and outdoor dining, which took off during the pandemic and seems here to stay, seasonally from April through most of December.

Also, since 2018 Greenwich residents have become familiar with the state affordable housing statute. Initially the proposals were relatively small. One that took neighbors by surprise was a 15 unit development at 4 Orchard Street next to Cos Cob School. The development has 5 units deemed affordable per 8-30g. It was approved despite neighborhood objection and testimony from the First Selectman Fred Camillo.

A pre-application for a seven-story, 192-unit 8-30g affordable development on Church Street that would replace the building with Townhouse Restaurant, two commercial buildings and several historic houses that date back to the late 1800s met with opposition last fall when 127 people attended a hearing via Zoom.

More recently, an 86-unit development proposed to replace a single family home at 5 Brookridge Drive at the corner of East Putnam Ave rattled the neighborhood, especially after the land was clear cut over a November weekend.

Under 8-30g, municipalities cannot deny an affordable housing proposal unless there is a specific significant health or safety concern.

Note to readers: This is a pre-application, and has yet to be scheduled for a meeting agenda, so P&Z commission and town planner are unable to answer questions at this time.
The time to comment or ask questions is if and when the application is scheduled for a public P&Z meeting. The idea of a pre-application is to dedicate about 20 minutes to the item during a P&Z meeting so the applicant gets enough feedback to determine whether to pursue an application.

Per CT Gen Stat § 7-159b (2013) pre-applications are non binding.They may not be appealed under any provision of the general statutes, and shall not be binding on the applicant or any authority, commission, department, agency or other official having jurisdiction to review the proposed project.

See also:

Proposed Downtown Tranfo Development Gets a Grilling from P&Z
Feb 1, 2018

P&Z: Proposed Text Amendment to CGIO Zone Could Signal Major Downtown Redevelopment Dec 4, 2017