Despite Movement to Postpone, RTM Votes on POCD

On Monday night the RTM voted to approve the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development, which was a surprise.

There had been much talk about postponing the vote. In fact, four committees had voted for postponement.

Earlier in the day, RTM Moderator Pro Tempore Alexis Voulgaris said on WGCH, “I think RTM members just want a little bit more time to read into it before they weigh in. …It’s a big item, and we’ll likely put it to the following month.”

Among those advocating for a vote Monday night were LWV president Sandy Waters, past LWV president who is head of the Tree Conservancy JoAnn Messina, Conservation Commission’s Susie Baker, former P&Z chair Louisa Stone and  Francia Alvarez, who spoke as a member of the Land Use Committee and as a resident.

Also, on Monday afternoon, First Selectman Fred Camillo issued an op-ed supporting the POCD.

P&Z director Katie DeLuca said she was pleased with the vote. “My sense is that hearing speaker after speaker explain the virtues of the Plan, the hard work and outreach that went into it, and the desire to move it forward, was ultimately what swayed the majority from voting for postponement,” she said in an email on Tuesday morning.

Indeed outreach was significant, and the lengthy process of public review began back in 2017.

There were workshops, group discussions, and online tools for gathering input. Public workshops included:  Community Workshop (January 17, 2018), Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, Downtown & Village Business & Property Owners Workshop (January 18, 2018), Putnam Avenue Business & Property Owners Workshop (January 19, 2018), Community Visioning Workshop (May 17, 2018), Subareas Visioning Workshop (October 4, 2018), Presentation of the draft (September 19, 2019), and a Public Hearing (November 12, 2019).

Also, focus groups included 32 meetings with town boards, commissions and organizations – everyone from Tamar Lurie to the Tree Warden, and from Greenwich Hospital to the Housing Authority. The P&Z Commission publicly noticed 50 other meetings to discuss edits of the POCD draft.

After a motion to postpone failed, the overwhelming majority of RTM members voted in favor.

The vote was 148 in favor, 24 against and 4 abstentions.

The next step is implementing the Plan.

“It was extremely gratifying to have that kind of support for the document,” DeLuca said.

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POCD workshop at Greenwich High School. October 4, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

One of the guiding principles of the POCD is to preserve community character.

After input from a public planning session at Greenwich High School last year, P&Z agreed to work on a landscaping plan for Route 1 and to address signage.

DeLuca noted that the Riverside Association in particular has urged the town to create a “sense of place” on Rte 1 in Riverside.

Liz Peldunas of the Riverside Association has said that community wants the Post Road to reflect a character of place and described Riverside as both “a mutt” and the “poor step child” of Cos Cob and Old Greenwich.

For example, at hearings on a 20 unit building at 1205 East Putnam Ave proposed under the Town’s 6-110 “workforce housing” regulation, Peldunas noted Riverside has a village name and distinct zip code, yet its main drag is Putnam Ave.

P&Z has since put a moratorium on 6-110 applications.

Also, DeLuca said P&Z has had several sessions with the Greenwich Board of Realtors, and as a result the Commission is committed to studying FAR, height, and other building controls so they are simple enough to explain to newcomers and less dependent on professionals.

The POCD also calls for developing a tree preservation ordinance for private property, which has been on the radar of many local environmental groups for years.

A recent 6-110 application for 62 Mason Street, submitted before the moratorium, was case in point.

For the 7-unit building, which will replace an 1890 structure, the applicant had to hire professionals for repeated appearances before P&Z and ARC.

At the same time the application demonstrated the need for a tree preservation ordinance.

Over the objections of the Tree Conservancy, the applicant received permission from the tree Warden to cut down a mature Town-owned Maple tree that is part of the historic streetscape to make room for a wide driveway.

As part of the agreement, the tree warden stipulated a “historically important” Magnolia tree on the property be preserved. However, the applicant’s attorney John Tesei subsequently said the Magnolia was not healthy and needed to be cut down.

The commission ultimately approved the 7-unit building. It includes 2 units of workforce housing.

“This ordinance will be tricky as we must ensure the appropriate balance
between private property rights and the public good,” DeLuca said of a tree ordinance.

The Plan also seeks to develop housing opportunities that include innovative, high-quality, green, “physically accessible to all” options beyond the single family residence.

“We need reasonably priced housing to attract young families who will invest in the community. We need options for our seniors who want to downsize, and we need options for the 60% of the Town employees and the 60% of Board of Education employees who currently live outside of Town,” DeLuca added. “That’s 2,200 employees who could be spending more of their time at work instead of commuting.”

DeLuca said the Plan will also promote “hidden housing” like accessory
apartments and identify illegal apartments.

She said the Plan also addressed the balance between having top quality public and private schools and respecting neighborhoods.

DeLuca noted schools are mostly located in residential neighborhoods, and neighbors have voiced objections to increased traffic and to school expansions.

A proposed 30% FAR in 2018 drew the ire of neighbors of GHS and Greenwich Academy in particular. That proposal was ultimately withdrawn.

In response the POCD has action items that will address traffic, protect privacy, increase buffer space, and add planting requirements between schools and residential neighbors, particularly around parking lots, auditorium spaces, and athletic facilities.

Other guiding principals are to preserve open space, particularly in back country, and to maintain the town’s economic vitality by upgrading zoning regs and streamlining the process of establishing a business in Greenwich.

It also refers to strengthening Downtown as the central business district, exploring a dredge of  Greenwich Harbor, creating an art installation, improving lighting in the Steamboat Rd underpass and improving parking downtown by segregating employee parking from consumer parking.

And, finally the Plan talks about providing the best quality infrastructure, municipal facilities, cultural institutions and health services.

In particular, DeLuca said, “the health care industry is one we must keep a close eye on as it is gaining strength to parallel the hedge fund industry in terms of where we can add value.”

And while the POCD focuses on providing more affordable and moderate-income housing in Greenwich, the elephant in the room remained state affordable housing statute 8-30g.

While P&Z imposed a moratorium on the town’s 6-110 workforce housing reg, 8-30g continues to exempt developments from local zoning regulations.

Though the Commission has had some success with using the statute to convert illegal apartments to affordable units, hundreds of residents have turned out to object to large 8-30g proposals including a multi story building on Sound Beach Avenue (After a law suit, a scaled down version was approved as a moderate incomedevelopment rather than 8-30g.) and a proposal for the site of Post Road Iron Works for a 5-story, 355-unit apartment building with two levels of underground parking that was rejected by the Wetlands Agency. (After the applicant appealed in court, Judge Berger denied the appeal.)

Recently, P&Z approved a settlement with a Milbank Ave developerwho sued the town after the Commission rejected his proposed apartment building.

While residents expressed dismay with the massive building, which will replace six turn of the century houses with one 30-unit building, the developer could have resubmitted under 8-30g for a significantly bigger development.

First Selectman Fred Camillo, who was until last week a State Rep, has worked on a state level toward a moratorium on 8-30g.

Section 8-23 of the Connecticut General Statutes requires each municipality to adopt a POCD at least once every 10 years.

Great Turnout for Binney Park ‘Tree Walk’ on a Chill November Day

Bald Cypress tree in Binney Park

On a chilly November Sunday, more than 40 people braved the weather for a walk in Binney Park, including people from Greenwich and tree lovers from as far as Fairfield.

Tree lovers all, they shared their enthusiasm for trees by asking many thoughtful questions about the trees of the guides for the walk, Dr. Greg Kramer, Greenwich’s Superintendent of Parks and Trees and Lisa Beebe, Curator of the Town Arboretum.

This walk was especially meaningful since it highlighted the improvements to the Park by the Binney Park Advisory Committee, including adding a patio to the Gazebo and new plantings around it.

The Advisory Committee is planning to add connecting trails in the near future so it will be easier to navigate the park to take it all in. It’s amazing how many diverse tree species are in the Park. The walk started at a Bald Cypress tree, a conifer that loses leaves and is one of the few trees that can grow in water. After a hurricane has hit Florida, this tree is one of the few left standing.

Next up on the itinerary was a Red Horse Chestnut tree for which Lisa Beebe installed an identifying plaque as part of the Town Arboretum in Binney Park.

The walk continued with a viewing of a Sweet Gum Tree, a Larch tree, a River Birch tree, and a Dawn Redwood. This walk only touched on a small portion of tree landscape of the park. Future walks will be held in the spring when the trees will be in bloom and the weather is warmer.

The Conservancy urges Greenwich residents to visit the park. Maps for all the Town Arboretum are available at greenwichtreeconservancy.org

Free Greenwich Tree Conservancy Talk: Do Trees Talk?

The Greenwich Tree Conservancy is thrilled to be bringing Peter Wohlleben, noted author of “The Hidden Life of Trees,” to the Greenwich Library Cole Auditorium at 7:00pm on Tuesday, March 12. Refreshments will be served at 6:30pm, and a Q&A and book signing will follow the presentation. Admission is free. Registration is required. RSVP to treeconserv@optonline.net

In his best selling book, heralded as groundbreaking by the New York Review of Books, Wohlleben reveals startling new discoveries about how trees nurture each other, communicate and maintain complex social networks. He presents the latest scientific evidence behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees.

A recent Smithsonian Magazine article states that a revolution has been taking place in the understanding of trees and that scientific studies have confirmed what Mr. Wolhlleben has long suspected from close observation. “Trees are far more alert, social, sophisticated—and even intelligent—that we thought”.

This program is in partnership with the Greenwich Library and co-sponsors include the Greenwich Botanical Center, Greenwich Garden Club, Greenwich Land Trust, Audubon Connecticut, Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens, Greenwich Green and Clean, Bruce Museum, Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

To The Editor: Trees bring many benefits to Greenwich

From the Greenwich-Post.com on November 14, 2013

To the Editor

Recently, the tree warden protected four beautiful pin oaks that mask part of the Cos Cob train station and give shade to that area. He also protected two trees that stand alone along Strickland Road.

We thank him for saving our town’s assets and understanding that safe roads and sidewalks can coexist with trees. Because of recent storms, some residents are concerned about our urban forest. So it’s good to remind everyone of the often-overlooked environmental and economic benefits of trees.

• Trees clean the air: Trees act as giant filters that clean the air we breathe by intercepting airborne particles, cooling the air and absorbing pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.

• Trees benefit the soil: Trees can store harmful pollutants and change them into less harmful forms. Trees filter sewage, reduce effects from animal wastes, clean roadside spills, and clean water runoff into streams. Trees control soil erosion, conserve rainwater and reduce sediment deposit after storms. Tree roots bind the soil and their leaves break the force of wind and rain.

• Trees increase property value: Real estate values can increase when trees are planted. Data shows that buyers are willing to spend 3% to 7% more on homes with ample trees over few or no trees.

• Trees shade and cool: Shade reduces the need for air conditioning in summer. Studies show that parts of cities without cooling shade from trees can literally be “heat islands” with temperatures as much as 12 degrees higher than in surrounding areas.

• Trees bring people together: Data shows neighborhoods with shady trees and parks create outdoor spaces that attract people. When people are drawn to spaces with trees, they are more likely to see and interact with their neighbors and become friends.

Let’s be mindful of “our friends” the trees and protect our environment, health and property values. Our children, their children, and all the generations to come as the heirs of our fragile planet will be grateful to us.

JoAnn Messina
Greenwich

The author is the executive director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.

Greenwich Tree Conservancy Celebrates Arbor Day

Click here to read the full story by Priscilla Lombardi on It’s Relevant.

The Greenwich Tree Conservancy celebrated Arbor Day and its 6th anniversary at McArdle’s Greenhouse Friday night.

Money raised this year will help fund a program that would allow the conservancy to plant trees around parking lots in downtown Greenwich.

“Specifically this year, we are dealing with a new technology called Silva Cell,” said Greenwich Tree Conservancy Executive Director JoAnn Messina. “Which is something that allows us to plant trees in parking lots, on sidewalks, and it can take traffic and the routes don’t get compressed.” Click here to read the full story by Priscilla Lombardi on It’s Relevant.