Public discusses proposed Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan

FI-greenwich-town-sealAn Oct. 1 workshop to review the first draft of the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan addressed a number of community concerns, but residents still had plenty of suggestions for improvement before the final report in December.

Hosted by the Planning and Zoning Commission, along with BFJ Planning, the consultants heading up the neighborhood’s proposed revisions, the workshop aimed to gather community views on issues and concerns with the draft report.

“This is not a report that is meant to be filed away and make everybody feel good that we covered all the problems,” said Planning and Zoning Chairman Donald Heller. “It is an action report, and the purpose of today’s meeting is to get your input.”

Frank Fish, co-founder of BFJ Planning, presented the highlights of the 130-page document, with the aid of Gary Sorge, the Stantec consultant leading the engineering and landscaping component of the plan, and Geoff Steadman, a coastal management consultant who has previously worked with the town.

According to Mr. Fish, the Cos Cob study is being conducted as the result of a 2009 Plan of Conservation and Development that called for a series of neighborhood studies. Byram was the first town neighborhood to be reviewed, and now it’s Cos Cob’s turn, he said.

The zoning commission and planning consultants have previously held public outreach meetings, Mr. Fish said, including a June workshop that provided plenty of community input for the study. The outcome, he said, was  a clear push for sustaining community character without making major zoning changes.

“The overall approach here … is to preserve the residential neighborhoods. And I think that’s a major finding of this study,” Mr. Fish said.

The Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan focuses primarily on two areas  — the hub of the neighborhood’s shopping center along East Putnam Avenue and its waterfront territory. Having met with the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA), as well as the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), Mr. Fish and his fellow consultants said they were able to verify some key facts in regard to Cos Cob’s roadways.

The CTDOT confirmed that, contrary to rumors that had been floating around town, the organization has no plans to close off Exit 4 on Interstate 95. It was further confirmed that the CTDOT is conducting a toll study in the area, and that angled parking will not be permitted along Route 1 because of the danger it poses.

Mr. Sorge, who presented a few potential plans with the goal of creating a safer, more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly shopping center, said he’s looking to create “more green, less pavement,” in the area, at the request of many Cos Cob residents. Without compromising parking or access to businesses, Mr. Sorge said, the center island on Route 1 near Sinawoy Road could be increased substantially while maintaining the one-way drive, which would result in shorter crosswalk distances and better overall aesthetics.

He also addressed the sidewalk’s close proximity to the street on the winding southern part of Post Road, and explained that it was possible to gain approximately five to eight feet there, to make the area safer for pedestrians by widening the distance between the two.

Susan Favate, another BFJ Planning consultant, reviewed the possibility of establishing Cos Cob as a village district. This distinction is a tool created by the state legislature that allows certain communities to designate areas with historical or cultural value that will impose specific standards of design, similar to an architectural review board, she said. There was plenty of support for the concept at the June planning workshop, she added.

Liquor licenses were another issue addressed at the Oct. 1 meeting. According to Ms. Favate, the Greenwich central business district has a different standard from Cos Cob’s business district for how far apart restaurants that sell alcohol can be located. At the suggestion of residents who attended the June workshop, the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan suggests decreasing those distances to make it more comparable to central Greenwich, and thereby generating more consumer activity.

Cos Cob’s urban design was also reviewed to determine which buildings have a distinctive character that should be replicated in the area’s redeveloped structures or new developments, Ms. Favate said. In addition, creating standard signage for better aesthetics, adding street furniture and increasing pedestrian amenities was suggested.

Mr. Steadman, who is charged with coastal area management, discussed Cos Cob’s waterways, explaining that the neighborhood had special requirements because of its coastal property. Opportunities surrounding these areas include the preparation of a Harbor Management Plan. Fortunately, he said, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) recently approved the formulation of a special commission to devise such a plan, which will ultimately strengthen the town’s’ authority and management of its waterways.

The issue of flooding in the Mill Pond area was another hot topic brought up by residents at the June planning workshop, and Mr. Steadman said the best immediate solution to the problem would be dredging the harbor, rather than approving a $15-million redrainage project that was previously proposed. The hope, he said, is that the harbor can be dredged in spring 2014 since the Connecticut Bond Commission had already allocated $2 toward the project in anticipation of it being completed in that time period.

When it was the public’s turn to speak, several residents had comments and suggestions.

Peter Berg, secretary of the Cos Cob Association, offered several recommendations, including the reorganization of the Cos Cob School’s parking areas to increase space there. He also pushed for the expansion of the library, noting that both the Byram and Old Greenwich libraries are bigger than Cos Cob’s facility, despite the fact that Cos Cob’s population is almost bigger than both of those neighborhoods combined. Mr. Berg also addressed the Cos Cob Station and Powerplant Park, which he concluded was not pedestrian-friendly enough, and could use safer and more abundant sidewalk areas.

Ann Deibler, a resident of Mill Pond Court, brought the discussion back to flooding around the pond, noting that “to say that it floods is an understatement.” Given the issue, planners should be very careful about adding sidewalks, fixtures and trees to the area, especially because it includes wetlands that are home to many local animals, she said.

Debra Mecky, executive director of the Greenwich Historical Society, said that while it might not be a priority, planners should consider making Cos Cob’s historic districts more distinctive to illustrate “the unique resources and what a special place it is.” She further suggested that the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan reflect the identity of these areas, especially on Strickland Road — the neighborhood’s first historic district.

Other community recommendations included reducing traffic lights to increase traffic flow, increasing zoning incentives for historic properties to encourage their preservation, protecting the wildlife and wetlands around Mill Pond, and eliminating the chain-link fence on River Road, which is considered a neighborhood “eyesore.”

According to Mr. Fish, the zoning commission and planning consultants hoped to gain as much written feedback as possible from the Cos Cob community by Oct. 15 before making final revisions to the current report, which is slated to be published for review by Nov. 1.

Those interested in submitting recommendations may email Town Planner Diane Fox by Oct. 15 at [email protected]


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