Residents hear update on town plan, future plans

For many residents, the town’s plan of conservation and development (POCD) may be out of sight and out of mind, but changes are taking place because of it and more are anticipated in the years ahead.

The current version of the POCD, which is done every 10 years, was officially approved by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in 2009 and since then several committees were formed to present reports and recommendations to First Selectman Peter Tesei. At a special meeting of the RTM’s Land Use Committee, Mr. Tesei, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Donald Heller and several town department heads gave an update about what’s been done since 2009 and what is still slated to happen.

“We’re 40% of the time elapsed since this report was approved and we’re approaching the halfway point, so I think this is a good period to assess over the next year as well as interject perhaps some critical new issues,” Mr. Tesei said.

Mr. Tesei said credit for the work that has been done and is ongoing had to go to people working on town boards and commissions as well as the town’s professional staff. The POCD had 100 implementation items that were later divided into four areas: Housing, transportation, town properties and the Greenwich downtown. Committees were formed for each, which resulted in the reports presented to Mr. Tesei and are still available online at Greenwichct.org.

The housing committee, co-chaired by Nancy Brown and Mark Schroeder, both of whom were in attendance, was particularly noted by Mr. Tesei. After two years, in 2011, they issued several recommendations including developing non-market rate housing without having to depend on direct government subsidies, which Mr. Tesei said “had great appeal to many of us.” Instead the idea was to create a community development partnership similar to what had been done in Stamford and work has been ongoing on it.

Mary Ellen LeBien is chairing a working group on this partnership and she said there would be a full presentation before the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 25 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. Mr. Tesei said they had been working with the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development as well as the town attorney’s office in how this partnership between the town and private developers could be fashioned.

“Making this community development partnership a reality will be dependent upon the approval of certain regulations that are part of the Housing Task Force report,” Ms. LeBien said.

Mr. Tesei also had praise for the town’s Community Development Block Grant Administrator Princess Erfe for her work with the town’s Housing Authority and overseeing the town’s housing stock for moderate income residents.

Not every one of the reports that came from the POCD have resulted in new committees. That hasn’t happened with town properties or transportation. Mr. Tesei also said it is not feasible to hire a planner for the downtown at this time, which the POCD also called for.

“My general sense on committees is I’m somewhat of a skeptic of adding committees for the sake of having them unless I can truly have a sense they’re going to achieve a purpose,” Mr. Tesei said. “On town properties I haven’t fully rendered a view yet.”

However, Mr. Tesei did have positive news when it came to town properties. He said that since the POCD came out, his office had been approached by “several individuals and representatives” who want to donate land to the town. He wasn’t able to get into the specifics of where the land was and how big yet, but Mr. Tesei said the information would come when the RTM considers gifts of land to the town. In addition there would have to be evaluation from town land use agencies.

Mr. Tesei said he was happy this discussion on additional open space was ongoing and urged people to “keep your fingers crossed” that this would end in a favorable way.

“Perhaps this is by virtue of a changed economy or perhaps it’s part of an overall estate plan with tax implications, but all I can tell you is that this is in process and it’s extremely preliminary,” Mr. Tesei said.

Mr. Tesei said there would also have to be consideration of the cost of maintenance. He noted that there was huge support at the time to purchase the Pomerance/Tuchman property in town but that since then there have been maintenance cost questions, and while Abilis has made use of a building there and made significant capital improvements, the Seton House has fallen into disrepair.

“The Seton House has become an attractive nuisance for young people and perhaps do things that young people like to do,” Mr. Tesei said.

The downtown committee’s work resulted in what Mr. Tesei called “a personal favorite action item” that addressed the Greenwich Common between the Board of Education’s headquarters on Greenwich Avenue and Town Hall. The committee recommended making it “more of an inviting space,” and hedges already removed along the side gave people more of an open view of it.

“That in of itself has given a greater sense of not only open space but of inviting people to take advantage of it,” Mr. Tesei said. “A lot of initial work has been done and we envision an improvement project, perhaps done through a public private partnership, that improves the pathway, lighting and benches so it becomes more of a destination for people who frequent the Avenue and those who just want a good place to meet.”

Mr. Tesei and Mr. Heller were joined at this meeting by Town Planner Diane Fox, Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert, town Tree Warden Bruce Spaman and town Conservation Director Denise Savageau. Mr. Heller and Ms. Fox discussed several of the ongoing projects including the Cos Cob study, which is similar to the Byram study done two years ago. This is preliminary and will include a look at parking as well as a view of where the town is going in terms of population and visitors. A meeting will be held on June 13 at 7 p.m. at Central Middle School.

“We think this is very relevant,” Mr. Heller said. “Here you have a community central to the entire town which has a lot of potential problems and some fantastic opportunities ranging from the pond through the parks. What we do with them and how we handle transportation in this community where the U.S. 1 traffic problem is at its most potent point is something we will focus on.”

Ms. Fox talked about flood zone regulation changes in the POCD and said there were questions about where property and the actual homes are in the zones because flood maps are old. She said new regulations are poised to go into effect June 8 and at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s June 25 meeting two more will be discussed. There has also been an evaluation of green area regulations, which she said wasn’t easy, but necessary before any decisions were made and changes were adopted as the plan called for. She also pointed to the final passage of the Byram plan and the forward momentum for Cos Cob.

There was also work on increasing zoning enforcement that makes sure property is within guidelines before a permit is even issued and on overdevelopment complaints.

“The community said to us to focus on the development that’s happening with people buying up R-6 lots one after another and going right ahead with development, causing drainage problems on adjoining properties,” Ms. Fox said. “Now the commission has the right to require a special permit for two family houses and we look at drainage and we look at the green area regulations to keep it in the neighborhood character.”

Mr. Heller said this update was not meant to close the conversation on ongoing and future projects.

“We will do this again and carry it through the entire 10-year period,” Mr. Heller said. “That’s the essence of what a plan is. It’s what you do with it, not just how you write it and put it together.”

 

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