Cos Cob Town Meeting focuses on neighborhood’s future

FI-greenwich-town-sealThis year’s annual Cos Cob Town Meeting had a very important item on the discussion table: namely, the future of Cos Cob.

At the meeting hosted by the Friends of the Cos Cob Library on Monday, April 21, members of the community banded together at an open forum to hear the latest updates on the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan and the many steps in its implementation.

In 2009, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) adopted a Plan of Conservation and Development, calling for a Cos Cob village plan. In December 2013, consultants to the Department Planning & Zoning drafted a Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan, with the goal of creating a “manageable and sustainable” future for the area. The recommendations of this plan, organized into five top priorities identified by the zoning department, were the primary focal point at the meeting.

Action plan

Panelists, including Town Planner Diane Fox, RTM District 8 Chairman Christopher von Keyserling and Peter Berg, secretary of the Cos Cob Neighborhood Association, presented an overview of the five major topics of interest: environmental issues, traffic/pedestrian safety issues and parking, business community, community facilities, and affordable housing.

Ms. Fox carefully described the action items outlined in the plan and emphasized the need for a solid neighborhood association that could help carry out the recommendations and provide effective impetus for action. She stressed that considerable time, effort and resources had already been invested in the plan, and said that in order for changes to be made, the involvement of agencies such as the RTM district, Cos Cob Neighborhood Association and dedicated residents is indispensable.

“All of the leaders need to be grouped together in the same format to really make a push for the appropriate departments and agencies to act on the recommendations in this plan,” Ms. Fox said. “I will tell you that as we go through the plans on a neighborhood basis, and we learned this after 10 years, that a strong association is very, very important to get action on these items. As a population, what you want to see your government do is to work from the bottom up, not from the top down. So that requires an organized approach.”

Ms. Fox also reiterated that the items in the plan were grouped under a variety of town agencies and departments, and not exclusively under the domain of the zoning department.

Environmental issues

The first major category of the plan is that of environmental issues. This overarching group covers Mill Pond dredging, Strickland Park, public waterfront access, flooding issues, protection of coastal resources, and the harbor management commission. In other words, this section is devoted to increasing the protection and preservation of existing open space lands, acquiring additional properties along Cos Cob Harbor, and developing additional waterfront public access along the Mianus River and from Cos Cob Park.

As for the dredging of Mill Pond, Ms. Fox was candid that the Department of Public Works (DPW) hasn’t historically favored that approach.

“There are two different balances to look at here. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be dredged because DPW doesn’t want it. We have to dredge for the right reasons, and one of the big issues is the flora, the fauna, the animals — and because it’s a saltwater and freshwater pond, it’s a critical environmental element to understand. So yes, it probably should be dredged; now having said that, let’s dredge for the right reasons,” said Ms. Fox.

Traffic and safety

The second top priority, traffic/pedestrian safety issues and parking, covered such issues as Route 1 reorganization, safe routes to school, effective drop-off and pickup at Cos Cob School, traffic, sidewalk improvements, and potential improvements to the Cos Cob train station area. The resounding theme here seemed to be that much more study was necessary.

“It needs a coordinated effort; if it’s an important issue, this is something that the association, all of the groups in the area, need to push for,” said Ms. Fox.

Ms. Fox called the redesign of Route 1 the “biggest controversy in the plan.” Despite an outside consultant proposing three different concepts, none of the options were met with any resounding consensus. As a result, the area will be left as is. However, Ms. Fox said, the door is merely closed for now, and that this may warrant re-review over the next decade or two.

The third category, business community, pertains to the recommendation of registering Cos Cob as a village district. There are clear and specific state statutes in place with standardized signage, building design and more. Ms. Fox also discussed potential changes in liquor regulations that would ease the license process for new hospitality businesses.

“We would love to hear from the business community about this. There’s two sides of every coin . … It isn’t top down; again, it’s bottom up. … We want the public to be involved in the process, to press the commission and feel comfortable,” said Ms. Fox.

The fourth topic, community facilities, spans parking, updates to the Cos Cob Library, a school review, scenic road designations, the new community garden, and more. The proposed expansion of the library to accommodate the needs of a large and growing population was met with loud approval at Monday’s meeting, leading Ms. Fox to joke that the evening more than suggested that Cos Cob Library needed more space.

“Obviously we need a larger community room in Cos Cob,” Ms. Fox said. “There’s no question that tonight’s a good example.”

Affordable housing

Last, Ms. Fox spoke about affordable housing, defined not as low-income housing but moderate-cost housing that would encourage younger people to move to Cos Cob and “regenerate the community.”

Mr. von Keyserling expanded on Ms. Fox’s call to the community to mobilize and work for the changes they wanted to see.

“Cos Cob is probably one of the strongest groups in Greenwich; it’s definitely one of the biggest ones as far as representation in the RTM. … It’s where most of your functionaries in Greenwich live if they can,” said Mr. von Keyserling. “When we do have something that we want, we shake the political pillars of this town.”

He shared his reasons for choosing to live in Cos Cob and his love for the small village neighborhood feel, where one gets to know neighbors and feel a genuine sense of community.

“They’re [Greenwich districts] like clubs; each has its own character, its group of people. … The reason that’s very important is that that gives everything human scale,” said Mr. von Keyserling. “We have in this town the wherewithal to create our future. … What we need to do is to decide what we want Cos Cob to be.”

In his remarks, Mr. Berg encouraged the audience to consider Cos Cob’s history when planning for both its present and its future.

“We can all hope for better quality of life, a more walkable, bikeable, sustainable, resilient neighborhood. … We’re talking about the future of Cos Cob, and it’s set in the history of Cos Cob, and we have an extremely rich history,” Mr. Berg said.

At this point, the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan is full of the aspirations and hopes of its residents. All comments and personal opinions will be included in the plan’s addendum, in its final version to be published online and presented at the zoning department’s May 20 meeting. As it exists now, the Cos Cob Neighborhood Plan is a strategic one of recommendations, not a financial plan. It’s also a long-term plan with a reach broader than five or 10 years that will affect many generations to come. In this plan, Cos Cob is taking into account what it used to be and what it wants to be moving forward.

“We are dramatically different today. … There’s really no limit to what can be changed, for the better,” said Mr. Berg.

 

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