Old Greenwich apartment building debate heats up
GREENWICH — The Planning and Zoning Commission is calling for changes to a proposed Old Greenwich apartment complex after the first hearing on the application drew close to 100 concerned residents this week.
The attorney for the project developer, Chip Haslun, presented details of the proposed 44-unit building to commission members Tuesday night at Town Hall. During the session, he also sought to address concerns that neighbors of the 143 Sound Beach Ave. property already have raised — size of the building, intended use of the property and traffic among the most prominent.
But he found the commission to be a tough audience.
“I’m seeing a very skewed residential project,” Chairman Richard Maitland said, summing up the commission’s general reaction.
“The plan before you is preliminary,” Haslun said. “We recognize we can tweak it here and there ... We have heard you, so we take your comments into consideration.”
No decision on the application was made this week. The meeting was a first step in what is likely to be a long process. It was the first time that members of the public could officially weigh in on the proposal.
Within the 42,201-square-foot building, developers want to build 16 studio apartments, 18 one-bedroom units, nine two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom unit. Nine of those apartments would be reserved for moderate-income housing.
Haslun’s main point was that 143 Sound Beach Associates LP, owned by Ivy Realty, want to “balance the needs for affordable housing with the needs that respond to other issues like density and traffic.”
He said the project would meet the rising demand for rental space by millennials who are moving out of their homes and want to stay in town, single parents who want to stay in their children’s school district and people who are downsizing.
The commission pointed out one major problem with the design right away.
The property is located in the LBR-2 zone, which means any building there must have retail space. A small space on the site, as currently designed, would be reserved for retail on the first floor, next to the large parking garage. But commission members agreed it would not suffice for what mixed-use buildings require.
“The zone doesn’t lend itself well to retail,” Haslun said, despite the small strip of businesses across the street. He also said the likelihood was low that using the space for retail purposes would generate foot traffic.
That didn’t sit well with opponents at the meeting, including members of Stop143SoundBeach, a residents organization that has collected more than 750 signatures on an online petition against the project.
“The developers put a particular emphasis on retail space,” said Adam Tooter, a resident of Potter Drive and head of Stop143. “I do not see many empty storefronts in Greenwich. What I do see in the town of Old Greenwich are cute retail stores, many of which are mom-and-pop owned.”
Earlier this month, Old Greenwich Association President Meg Nolan coordinated a meeting between the builders and homeowners who would be most affected.
In response to the top issues mentioned in that meeting, developers have changed the proposed design from a towering gray building to one made of brick and stone that takes influence from local architecture.
However, the design and requirements for the zone are not the only, or main, points of contention with residents opposed to the plan. They worry about its size and potential impact on traffic at the frequently clogged entrance to the village.
Haslun mentioned that the traffic on Sound Beach Avenue would actually decrease with the apartment building there instead of the current medical building, which has daily appointments and regular visitors.
Members of the audience Tuesday laughed at the suggestion.
Developers submitted a traffic report supporting Haslun’s assertion, but an attorney representing Tooter, Jim Fulton, said it did not take into account after-school traffic or traffic to Greenwich Point Park during beach season.
Arline Lomazzo, chair of the RTM Public Works Committee and a member of District 6, which includes Old Greenwich, said last year during beach season 263,000 cars drove to Tod’s Point and 45,000 people walked or biked into the park.
The developers’ argument that the complex would increase affordable housing also was attacked by opponents who said the handful of affordable units were beings used as a cover for erecting a “luxury” apartment building where it does not belong.
“We will see what happens,” Fulton said after the hearing. “We all know that this property owner has the right to do something with his property, but he could do it in a way that is considerate.
“To do affordable housing right in the town of Greenwich,” he said, “they need more input from the Housing Authority and use more property from the Housing Authority.”
Former Town Planner Diane Fox, Old Greenwich Tennis Academy representatives and other members of the Representative Town Meeting also argued against the project.
“This is the only village left,” OGTA Manager Susi Orbanowski said. “To have an apartment building there would be unthinkable.”
Orbanowski agreed with other opponents of the plan, and also spoke on the village’s demographics.
“Traffic congestion, parking, the inappropriate density of the design for the area (all pose problems),” she said. “We really don’t need millennials in Old Greenwich.”
Tuesday’s hearing was preliminary. The application is to be formally opened by April 15 with a maximum extension to May 20.