As deadline approaches, Armstrong Court renovation stalls

Approval of municipal improvement (MI) status for a renovation of Armstrong Court will have to wait after a planned vote did not take place at the Nov. 6 Board of Selectmen meeting.

The item had been on the agenda earlier in the week leading up to the Nov. 6 meeting, but after meeting with First Selectman Peter Tesei Nov. 5, Sam Romeo, chairman of the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, withdrew it to submit at a later date. MI status is needed for any project on town property and it needs to be granted to allow a project to proceed to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

While an email was sent to residents explaining this, the communication did not get to everyone, and a small group appeared at the meeting looking to comment on the project, specifically its impact on nearby Booth Place, which residents have long said is already a substandard street in terms of the road condition. There have been concerns raised about the impact this project would have, both with construction vehicles coming through and additional traffic since an entrance point into the renovated complex would be through Booth Place.

Mr. Tesei said he expected over the next several weeks to have “dialogue” with town departments like Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands and Watercourses to deal with resident concerns. Mr. Tesei said at the Nov. 6 meeting that he did not believe any of the complaints were about the need for Armstrong Court to be renovated but rather were directed toward one specific part of the plan to have a new building there with 51 units dedicated to senior housing.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees with the need to update Armstrong Court,” Mr. Tesei said, noting that the housing complex is more than 50 years old. “I think the concept behind creating more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing apartments and better-functioning apartments is not something people have an issue with. The issue comes from utilization of some town land that sits at the bottom of the hill in a strategically sensitive area both environmentally and because it’s not easily accessible.”

Mr. Tesei said he wondered if that location was the best spot for the senior housing because of those difficulties and he also echoed concerns he and his colleagues first expressed when the matter was first brought to them at the board’s Oct. 23 meeting about the condition of the soil there. The area is near the town’s Holly Hill Recycling Center, and there are concerns about potential contaminants in the soil, an issue that became an expensive one for the town when it was discovered that there was contaminated fill at Greenwich High School.

“We want to make sure that the requisite environmental testing is done so that before we give our blessings to the concept we know exactly what we’re getting into, not only for us, for the town, but for the residents and the Housing Authority,” Mr. Tesei said.

While there were only a few attendees at the meeting because of the item being withdrawn, they said they agreed with Mr. Tesei. They said their objections were not with the overall improvement plan, but rather this part of it and its impact on the area, specifically Booth Place. Pamela Tinoco, the daughter of Booth Place residents, urged the town to be sensitive to residents in that area because they already felt they weren’t being paid attention to. She said she also wanted to make sure residents were being communicated with because they weren’t getting all the information, including that the item had been withdrawn from the agenda.

“It’s already a dangerous area and now you’re going to add seniors living there and more traffic,” Ms. Tinoco said, recalling how when she was a child she was struck by a speeding driver on Booth Place. “This is why we’re concerned. It’s not about Armstrong Court. It’s been here so long and I feel it needs some renovation.”

Mike Warner, a Representative Town Meeting member from the area (District 3), also spoke at the meeting and said he agreed that more information needed to be released before any final decisions were made, especially because of the potential environmental concerns. He also stressed the existing concerns about the hill in the area and how treacherous it could be, especially in the winter.

“I recognize you’re getting input from 360 degrees about everybody’s road is special, but I would recommend that you prioritize this,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner later told the Post that the local homeowners he has spoken to remain mostly in favor of the upgrade to Armstrong Court.

“Booth court is a cul-de-sac where most cars are those of local residents and children play in the streets without worry from outside passing cars. Therefore, it seems to me reasonable to measure the traffic impact the senior living site would have on Booth Court and the neighborhood,” Mr. Warner said. “Further, the sidewalk for the street is overgrown with bushes and difficult to use. ‘Where can the children play?’ is a question I hear often.

He added, “We should not minimize, however, the great positive impact these renovations to Armstrong Court will have; we’re all behind that.”

Both Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo said at the meeting they would talk with Mr. Romeo and the other members of the board of commissioners about possibly separating the senior housing from the overall renovation to not have one part of the project hold up the rest of it. However, Mr. Tesei said he wasn’t sure if that was possible, considering that the construction plan had it being done in phases that necessitated the senior housing building be built.

He was not present at the meeting, but Mr. Romeo was able to speak to the Post regarding the project. Though he was not able to provide exact results, he claimed that tests proved the building site is free of potential contaminants and he said he will be able to provide the final test findings to the selectmen’s office during the meeting this week.

He also expressed concern over the project’s pending deadline with the state, saying that the approved plan would need to be submitted by the second week of December. While Mr. Romeo acknowledged the concern over parking at Booth Place, he said the responsibility falls upon the town’s engineers to correct the long-standing parking issues.

Speaking specifically about the senior housing, Mr. Romeo said that there have been car counts and an ongoing traffic study to determine potential problems, but the results haven’t yielded any major concerns. He also noted that senior residents utilize car services such as Call-A-Ride and TAG, meaning their impact on parking would be lessened.

“Our project is ready to go; if this puts our funding in jeopardy, the whole town loses and there will be no renovations at all being done there,” Mr. Romeo said. “The funding is coming from the state of Connecticut, and if it looks like there’s going to be some sort of a ‘battle,’ then I don’t think the state will view that favorably, and they’ll move on to somebody else’s project.”

The next Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for Nov. 20, but there is no agenda set as of yet. With the deadline quickly approaching, the window for negotiating the existing issues is closing despite a shared desire to see Armstrong Court updated.

Ken Borsuk contributed to this story.

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