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Apartment complex OK’d for Chickahominy

November 25, 2018

GREENWICH — The Planning and Zoning Commission has given the go-ahead to the final site plan for a new apartment complex in Chickahominy that will include some units of affordable housing.

The plan is to build three buildings, with a total of 15 apartment units, on an 18,600-square-foot site at 303 Hamilton Ave. Five of the units would be set aside as affordable units through an agreement with the state, which would add to Greenwich’s stock of affordable housing while making the project’s developer eligible for tax breaks.

Bruce Cohen is the attorney representing the project developer, which was not identified in Planning and Zoning Commission documents released to the public.

According to Cohen, 14 of the apartments would be one-bedroom units and one would be a two-bedroom unit. The apartments are expected to attract either single tenants or couples without children, he said.

Three of the five affordable units would be rented to tenants who qualify at 60 percent of the state median income. The other two would be rented to tenants who qualify at 80 percent of that figure.

The other 10 units would be rented at market value.

Connecticut statutes call for municipalities to set aside 10 percent of housing as affordable. With Greenwich at about 5 percent, Cohen said the development would add to that number and do it “in an attractive way.” The project is “an excellent example of an affordable development,” he said.

The commission’s vote was not unanimous. Acting Chair Margarita Alban voted against the plan after a lengthy debate about the additional parking needed in an already well-developed neighborhood.

“We want to support the affordable housing but on the other hand we don’t want to compromise people’s quality of life,” Alban said.

There is currently a three-family house and a two-car garage on the property. A number of apartments are nearby: The site is close to a 22-unit condo development and to the town-owned Armstrong Court housing complex with its 144 units.

“It is a fairly densely developed area,” Cohen said, adding that Hamilton Avenue is the “commercial spine of the Chickahominy area” near several local businesses and between Hamilton Avenue School and Western Middle School.

But he said the apartments “were not in any way adversely impacting the neighborhood in terms of quality of life.”

But commission members were concerned about adding more apartments — and more 17 more parking spaces, one of which would be handicapped accessible — in the area. They asked about the impact on Hamilton Avenue, which is designated as a town emergency evacuation route.

With only 17 parking spaces for 15 units, commission members said resident might park elsewhere when there were guests at the complex. That, they said, could create problems.

Overnight parking is prohibited in several sections of the Hamilton Avenue neighborhood, Alban said.

“In the event of a major event like a hurricane, you would need to have Hamilton Avenue open for evacuation,” Alban told Cohen. “You said you could use Hamilton Avenue (for overflow parking) and yet we’re being told you really can’t overnight there.”

But Cohen said bad weather could be an issue even without the apartments. He cited the snowstorm earlier this month that paralyzed traffic throughout the region and said he couldn’t get out of his own driveway.

“These are infrequent and unusual situations,” Cohen said. “As a regular matter what (the commission) should be looking at is there adequacy in terms of parking. The 17 parking spaces satisfies the needs of the 15 units.”

Alban said it was a matter of being prepared.

“The protection of the health and safety of the citizens of Greenwich is not, ‘Let’s just shoot for the average,’” Alban said. “We have to think about what will happen when there is an emergency situation. Hamilton Avenue is an emergency evacuation route and we have to be conscious of that. You can’t say to us, ‘Well let’s just plan for adequacy when everything is going well.’”

The increase in extreme weather from global warning could lead to more emergencies in the future, Alban said.

Commission member Nick Macri said an accident or traffic jam on nearby Interstate 95 can also lead to backups on streets in the neighborhood.

John Canning, a traffic consultant hired by the developer, said overnight parking on the street near the apartments would not interfere with emergency access.

“Fifteen units is not going to make a difference on Hamilton Avenue,” Canning said.

Commission members also asked whether allowing fewer units in the development would allow for more green space and have less of an impact on parking and traffic.

“It seems to me that the whole project would be much more beneficial if it had less units on it,” commission member Nick Macri said. “You’d get more parking off the street and more green space and less air conditioners.”

Commission member Dave Hardman repeatedly pressed on the issue, asking whether it was possible to have fewer units while maintaining the planned number of affordable ones and making the overall project economically feasible for the developer. Cohen said that his client had done everything possible to maximize the number of affordable units within the limits of the statute. The developer didn’t want to eliminate the affordable units to make the development smaller, he said.

“I don’t believe there are any substantial interests in health, safety or other issues that would come before the commission that would mitigate against the approval of a project like this,” Cohen said.

Ultimately, Macri and Hardman voted to approve the project.

No members of the community attended the meeting to speak about the project.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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