At Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning commission meeting, Howard Winklevoss, whose famous identical twin sons Tyler and Cameron rowed in the Olympics, did not get the green light he hoped for his new Row America Club.
The club is planned on the former Fjord Fisheries site at 89 River Road, the familiar red building having recently been demolished. Back in August, three properties – 89, 143 and 137 River Rd – were sold to Mr. Winklevoss’s River Road Development, LLC for a sum of $6 million.
Row America, which also operates clubs in Westport and Rye, seeks to build a facility to include a retail store for safety equipment, merchandise and boats; offices for coaches; lockers; lavatory facilities; exercise area and a conference room and a multi-purpose room for meetings.
When Mr. Winkelvoss, represented by attorney Thomas Heagney, made a comparison of parking patterns at his Westport Club, with the proposed parking in Greenwich for 66 cars plus 3 handicapped spots, that’s when the trouble began.
Commissioner Nancy Ramer said the Westport Row America includes a gym and restaurant, and the Greenwich location will not. “You have apples and oranges here, where parking is concerned,” she said.
As for the inclusion of offices, Mr. Winkelvoss said, “These are for our people, coaches and Row America club officials – they’re not corporate offices.”
Commissioner Richard Maitland said he was concerned that 16 machines in the training room would result in more than 16 people in that room at any one time. “It all comes down to parking,” he said.
Mr. Winkelvoss said young rowers don’t require parking. “They carpool and are mostly under age and don’t drive,” he said. Besides, he added, “We can’t handle 60 adults because we don’t have enough coaches.”
The commissioners listed all the uses of the facility that will increase demands on parking. There is a retail showroom. There are two conference rooms. There are offices. There are three kitchens. There is a laundry area. There will be staff who drive to work in addition to coaches.
“I come up with 75 spaces,” Mr. Maitland said. “That’s plus or minus 43, plus 16 for erg machines, and 14 for the excess space around erg machines for other functional uses I know will happen. We were troubled when a rowing facility appeared before us before.” Mr. Maitland said an important goal of the WB Zone is to increase views of the water for the public ‘Was there any thought of turning the building 90° to increase visibility of the water?”
Mr. Heagney said a key feature of the building design are its expansive windows on both sides, allowing a view through to the water.
“This one gives great views of the water for the rowing club, but the WB zone’s principal goal is visibility of the water for the public,” Maitland replied.
Mr. Winkelvoss said he hopes to open multiple additional clubs in the future, but would like for Greenwich to be his main club. “When we have 15 to 20 clubs, we’ll be needing that,” he said of the larger of the two conference room.
Mrs. Ramer also questioned the adequacy of the parking based on the parking generation charts created by the applicant’s traffic expert, Michael Galante.
“Where there are group classes, we’ve had a negative experience,” Mr. Ramer said, citing issues with Soul Cycle, which she described as an ongoing disaster.
“We’ll gap it 15 to 20 minutes,” Mr. Winkelvoss said, suggesting additional time between classes.
“You’ve got two operations, in Westport and Rye, which we can check. You want your Greenwich location to be a central location for your activity. It’s a different ballgame than what we’re used to,” Mr. Heller said. “I don’t contest any of this. I congratulate you. I think this is a hell of a good thing for the town.”
“We think there’s a lot of Olympians in town, and we just want to bring them forward,” Mr. Winkelvoss said, adding that Mr. D’Andrea had laid out a good, safe traffic pattern. “We would never put the kids at risk. The lanes are clearly marked. Kids aren’t milling around. They’re standing there waiting for their mothers to pick them up.”
“I want to see a layout of where you’re doing your set-up during the switch over,” commissioner Andy Fox said. He also asked why the layout of the walkway was in a semi-circle instead of a straight line, pointing out that the commission would like to see a continuous boardwalk. He also asked why it wasn’t 10 ft wide, noting that the boardwalk is 10 ft wide at Greenwich Water Club.
Mrs. Alban said she was concerned that there was a loss of continuity of the boardwalk, both in its distance from the water, its width and its material, which is not not boards.
“Has there been conversations between the three clubs?” Town Planner Katie DeLuca asked. “How how will the traffic in the narrow channel be coordinated? Who is in charge?”
Mr. Winkelvoss said Jamie Koven is establishing a non-profit Greenwich Rowing Foundation that he hopes will bring together the three rowing clubs for cooperation.
“We reached out to Brunswick and the Greenwich Water Club. We need to work together so our kids will all be safe,”Mr. Winkelvoss said. “We kind of got the cold shoulder from the Greenwich Water Club, but we’ll work that out.”
As for coordinating traffic on the water, Winkelvoss said, “You can’t have a buoy line in a federal channel. We’re working hard to get a separate, dredged channel and piggyback that onto the dredge next fall. We think we have a wonderful wealthy gentlemen who will fund that, or we can fund it together so we get a separate wide channel. If not, we’ll just have to go out on the right and come back on the left.”
Commissioners pointed out that there is no on street parking on River Road, which is well traveled and traffic moves quickly. Specifically, they asked the applicant to return with much more detail on the schedule of classes, and a more detailed and up to date traffic study.
“We’re concerned that the building will be used for non water dependent uses,” Commissioner Alban said, referring to the inclusion of rooms including three kitchens, two conference rooms and a laundry area.
Commissioner Peter Levy said he was concerned about the size of the building. “It towers above the road and it’s a very big building and takes up the site. Maybe it’s as simple as doing more landscaping to soften it,” he said.
Mr. Heagney said the building is designed within its Floor-Area-Ratio.
“It’s a very imposing building, although lovely and very expensive. It’s quite massive,” Mr. Levy said. “If you turn it 90° that would make a tremendous difference in how it’s perceived… This is a neighborhood.”
“We’re looking for something distinctive and architecturally significant,” Mr. Heagney said.
Patrick Larow, from the Planning & Zoning Dept, said Mr. Kral, owner of Greenwich Water Club, sent a letter asking the commission to reconsider the application.
“The trouble is you didn’t talk about anything on the water really,” said Frank Mazza, chair of the Harbor Management Commission. “There are problems out there already. We’ve had complaints about interaction between rowers and power boats. …Also, we just heard about maybe a little more dredging. There is not going to be any more dredging for a long long time.”
Don Conway said that at low tide, sailboats, power boats and rowing skulls all try to keep out of each other’s way. Lastly, he said when I95 backs up, people use River Road as a detour, which makes the parking and traffic study all the more important.
“I would hate to think that the Harbor Management Commission would be in the way of using the harbors,” Mr. Heagney said.
At the end of the night, rather than approving the application, the commission left the application open, requesting that the applicant to come back with a schedule of employees, including who’s going to be there and how long, and an updated traffic study. Also left open was the possibility that the building might be rotated 90° to open up view corridors to the water.
The application goes before Architectural Review Committee on April 6.