AP NEWS

Fight brewing over apartments planned for Western Greenwich

March 3, 2019

GREENWICH — Opposition is growing over two apartment buildings proposed for West Putnam Avenue — developments that opponents say could overwhelm the area with traffic and put a strain on the sewers and infrastructure.

When Greenwich’s Planning and Zoning Commission meets Tuesday, proposals for the developments at 500 and 585 W. Putnam Ave. are expected to be on the agenda again.

Only one member of the public commented on the projects, both of which set aside units specifically as moderate-income housing, at a Feb. 5 meeting. But this time, residents are expected to push back against the projects.

Town Director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca said her office has received letters against the proposals, and opponents are hoping for a big turnout for Tuesday’s hearing at Town Hall.

Former Selectman Lin Lavery, who lives near the proposed developments, is one of the organizers of the pushback and also plans to speak. She and other neighbors previously fought an ultimately unsuccessful development at the Post Road Iron Works site.

“The traffic is going to be dramatically affected by this,” Lavery said, noting the proximity to Valley Drive, which she called a “major artery” of the town. “See what’s happened with the traffic already because of the Citarella. The sheer mass of this makes it not the appropriate development for our community. What’s going to happen to flooding when we take out all the green space? What’s going to happen to the sewers and town infrastructure? What’s going to happen with the schools? There’s a lot to be discussed here.”

Lavery is just one of the many people urging the commission to reject the projects. A review of the dozens of letters received by DeLuca’s office found the vast majority of them oppose the project.

A letter from Jane Ghazarossian said the projects “represent an egregious overstepping of the character and needs of our town.” That already congested area of Western Greenwich does not need “large boxy buildings generating more traffic,” near the busy CVS, the Citarella, the Holly Hill recycling center and waste disposal facility, and the Valley Drive Post Office, she said.

Karen DeWahl’s letter called the situation a “tragedy of losing our town’s charm and green spaces.” In her letter Jane Arnone worried that the development would cause the loss of the “traditional neighborhood character.”

But the projects have defenders, too, with some letters saying they would bring badly needed revitalization to rundown areas of West Putnam Avenue while providing more housing. “It would be an amazing addition to the surrounding community,” town resident Mary Aufrecht wrote, adding that they would “bring a greater sense of community and togetherness.”

In his letter, Gregory Kau said the developments would bring economic development to the area and called the plans “exactly the type of development that we need to sustain and grow Greenwich’s economy in the long-term.”

Under the current proposals, the 500 W. Putnam Ave. development would have 35 units along with a parking garage. The apartments would be built off to the side of a new office space on the property that includes a satellite location for Greenwich Hospital.

According to the plan, there would be 16 one-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units and 13 three-bedroom units. As part of the development, eight units would be set aside for moderate-income members of Greenwich’s workforce, which was called for in the 2009 town Plan of Conservation and Development.

At the 585 W. Putnam Ave. development, the plans call for 67 residential units, with 14 set aside for moderate-income tenants. The existing office buildings on the site would be demolished and a multilevel parking garage would also be built there. Additionally, the development would have space for businesses, with a supermarket, a fitness center and a restaurant mentioned as possible tenants.

Town resident and developer John Fareri, who oversaw the new office space at 500 W. Putnam Ave. and the CVS at 644 W. Putnam Ave., is also overseeing both of the proposed projects. On Thursday, Fareri’s attorney John Tesei said he understood the neighbors’ concerns but said the project would address them.

“These are assumptions that are not correct,” Tesei said. “A lot of thought has gone into these plans with the goal of improving conditions.”

The town’s traffic department has signed off on the developments, Tesei said. They would provide “substantial benefit for the west side of Greenwich” while fitting within town Planning and Zoning regulations for size and height, he said.

“The older buildings (at 585 W. Putnam) are not in character, but the new buildings will be in character of an upgraded neighborhood,” Tesei said.

Gregg Delany, a lifelong resident and a professor of real estate, finance, capital markets and urban planning at New York University’s Schack Institute, said the housing would improve the area. A major part of what makes towns successful — from an urban design and feasibility perspective — is a balanced mix of housing, Delany said. He praised Fareri’s previous work in town, which has “transformed a stale corridor into a more vibrant business community.”

“Western Greenwich lacks the balance afforded by modern apartment living,” Delany said. “It is needed to complement and sustain the commercial businesses now migrating into this part of town. Employers need people living nearby that can walk, bike or scooter to work and who will patronize restaurants, fitness and service offerings arriving by foot, stroller and electrically powered two- and four-wheel vehicles.”

Lavery, the former selectman, agreed that 585 W. Putnam Ave. is in need of a revitalization, calling the site derelict.

“It’s a disgrace, and it’s great that we’re thinking of doing something to improve the space,” she said. “But to improve the space does not mean to go in and environmentally decimate the space and take out all the trees. This plan would take down trees that cannot be replaced. You can’t put in new trees where these big old trees have been because the root structure is there. This is not appropriate for the site.”

Lavery agreed the needs moderate-income housing and said she was “all in favor” of it. She called for a greater balance in Greenwich with more senior, affordable and moderate-income housing. But she said that setting aside 22 units out of the proposed 102 units was not enough to make up for relaxing the zoning regulations and allowing the developments to go forward.

“At what cost are we getting this moderate-income housing?” Lavery said.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com