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On the waterfront Proposal could change development

November 15, 2018

GREENWICH — Greenwich could see more development in many places along its waterfront under proposed changes to the zoning code that are up for discussion next week.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission will consider language changes to existing town code at its next meeting Nov. 20. If approved, the changes could affect development at waterfront properties along Steamboat Road in the downtown area and along River Road in Cos Cob.

But the biggest impact could be in felt in Byram. That possibility has led to months of more work after feedback from local residents and business owners since the process began in 2016.

“We have spent a few years now working with the community to understand what is not working and what solutions make sense,” town director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca said Wednesday. “We have made adjustments to the language that was presented last year to address the comments from the public, the Harbor Management Commission and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.”

DeLuca said she hoped the process was finished, “but if not, we will keep working on it until we are.”

The public can speak directly to the Planning and Zoning Commission at the Nov. 20 meeting.

Those adjustments include working to preserve water-dependent uses for waterfront properties, she said. One proposal would limit any future development to sites where there is already a water-dependent use, such as an existing marina.

Also, the proposal would reduce the number of parking spaces required for boat slips. It would also require that any boat slips located at properties with residences on them be available to the public as well.

The language changes would put Byram, Cos Cob and the downtown waterfront into three distinct waterfront business zones. That could lead to further development if future proposals for those areas pass muster with the commission and get all the needed approvals.

Further development would be allowed in those waterfront areas — if certain conditions are met, such as creating public access to and preserving the waterfront. Restaurants, retail food establishments, seasonal farm stands, offices and even multifamily dwellings could then be allowed through the use of special permits.

New multifamily dwellings on the waterfront would be permitted only on upper floors and limited to properties on a lot of more than 20,000 square feet. Flood zone restrictions would also have to be considered for any new housing.

Business owners in Byram are concerned about the mandate for public access to the waterfront. Questions have been raised about how much public access would be enough, how it should be done and how much potential liability business owners could face by having their properties open.

Some owners had asked whether the mandate for public access could be interpreted as illegal seizure of private property, which they said would lead to legal challenges.

In workshops in 2016 and 2017, the public said the proposed uses were “overly restrictive thereby causing a deterioration in property values because property owners are unwilling to invest in their properties,” DeLuca said.

Others also raised questions about whether the allowable uses for the waterfront have resulted in the best possible waterfront for Greenwich, she said.

The call for further development along Greenwich’s waterfront stems from the town Plan of Conservation and Development. The POCD called for a review of the waterfront business zones and a continued expansion of opportunities for water-dependent land use activities and public access points along the coast.

As work continues on the new POCD for 2019, waterfront access is one of the remaining areas to be acted upon.

The 2019 POCD is expected to focus more on the downtown area of central Greenwich as well as the Route 1 corridor from Port Chester to Stamford.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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