Daily Archives: November 6, 2013

Back from the FEMA meeting

If there was anything good that came from it, it was that ordinary civilians got to see the incompetence, arrogance and indifference of the people we employ as P&Z staffers. “Is there anything she does know?”, one civilian asked me after the meeting, referring to Diane Fox. Welcome to the monkey house.

So here’s the deal: we, the citizens of Greenwich, are free to draft proposed amendments which we may submit to the staff of the P&Z. They may, but may not, submit them to the state DEP for approval and comments, then they’ll hold public meetings to “get a consensus” Fox said, although as the 100+ property owners in the room shouted back at her, the consensus is obvious,  and then maybe the staff ail deign to follow our demands. Until then, forget trying to sell your home if it’s in one of the “flood zones” – which, by the way, include may properties along inland watercourses – this is not a problem restricted solely to waterfront homes or low-lying areas of Old Greenwich.

Two amendments are obvious, right off the bat:

1. Immediately start using the flood base level, rather than a home’s actual grade level, as the starting point for measuring a building’s height, as suggested by surveyor Len D’Andrea. This would mean that, if you were forced to raise (or build new)  your house ten feet to be 1′ above the flood base level, you wouldn’t automatically be in violation of height restrictions. As it is now, if you need to go up a significant amount, you’ll ed up with a two-story home on stilts with 8′ ceilings and a flat roof. Good luck selling that down the road.

2. Stop with the “substantial improvement” clock being set at 1986. Right now, if your house is non-compliant, any improvement costing 50% or more of the value of the structure itself will force you to make the house entirely compliant with current FEMA regs. In some cases, that means stilts and a stairway to heaven, or at least the new first floor ten feet in the air. In the case of many houses, razing, not raising, is the outcome: ever try jacking up a stone house? But, and here’s the big issue, it’s not just the cost of the proposed improvement that counts toward calculating that 50 %, but any improvements made since 1986. If someone remodeled the kitchen and baths back in 1989, the cost of those improvements is deducted from your 50% allowance.

Why 1986? “Because we’ve always done it that way,” says Fox. Makes no difference that FEMA regs allow you to reset every year, Diane and her munchkin twit Katie DeLuca want to see every non-compling house in town gone from the face of the earth and using 1986, Fox says, “hastens that compliance”. Indeed it does – it forces you to tear down your house. Other towns on the water: Stamford, Fairfield and Darien, for instance, go back just five years. Every five years, you get a new 50% limit. The  Greenwich P&Z staff insists that that’s far too dangerous, and therefore impose, completely without authorization from anyone, a single starting date: 1986 (there are exceptions to this exact date but they’re complicated and serve no useful purpose for this immediate discussion).

We can force the staff of our town to use Stamford’s five-year reset rule merely by amending our zoning rules. We should do so.

It is dismaying to hear from Fox that neither she nor her staff has ever even looked at the interaction of all of the various property restrictions they’ve promulgated over the years, never even considered what imposing set back and height requirements to property use, then adding a floor area limitation, then adding a grade plane restriction, then lot coverage limits, then drainage, then …… A doctor won’t prescribe a drug without first knowing how it interacts with any other drugs you’re using. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Fox, deLuca or any of the other P&Z employees are capable of being admitted to medical school, but they could surely look at what they’ve already done and consider the effect. They haven’t and, Fox made clear tonight, have no intention of doing so.

Right now, if you’re considering buying a property in either of our new flood zones: VE and AE, on the water, near the water or near a stream, you should insist on the owner obtaining and providing you with an elevation certificate so that you know exactly how high the house is. Then, armed with that, you should consult with a lawyer and an engineer to see what you can do with the property: how much you can add on, if you can add on at all, whether you’re allowed to update the kitchen and baths, etc. Then get a quote on flood insurance. Then, and only then, you might want to make an offer on the property. Or you may want to buy somewhere else.

The P&Z has no idea what they are doing to property values and unfortunately, neither do most homeowners. The homeowners are about to find out; the P&Z doesn’t care.

Somewhere in town we have an RTM Land Use Committee and a First Selectman who between them are supposed to have some control over the P&Z. I don’t know what those RTM members look like so I can’t say whether they were at tonight’s meeting.I do know that Peter Tesei wasn’t there, nor any of the actual members of the Planning & Zoning Committee – your fellow citizens, that is, not a pair of clueless employees. Homeowners are being screwed, our elected representatives will do nothing to assert command and stop it. Why not?


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Awesome arrogance on part of our employees at P&Z .
Question ignored:
Paul Pugliese: why not back out of federal flood insurance? It’s being phased out in 4 years anyway, and there’s a payment cap of just $250,000 let the town self – insure.
Resounding applause- Disne Fox moves on.
Also won’t address the uncertainty regarding what can be done with a property- “that’s caused by FEMA changing its flood map”. In fact, it’s the refusal of Fox’s staff to promulgate firm regulations that’s killed the Old Greenwich real estate market. Right now, you may spend $100,000 on architectural and engineering fees to have a plan that can be submitted. You have NO idea ahead of time how the staff will respond and, it turns out, often just say “nope- come back with something else and we’ll see if we like that one”. At this point, you’d be nuts to consider buying a house in the AE zone, let alone the VE.

Suggestion from surveyor D’Andrea: use flood zone elevation as base line, rather than existing grade plain. This would at least allow homes to be raised without violating current height restrictions? Fox- make a proposal for an amendment, maybe it’ll happen in 3 months (try a year). Until then, you’re in limbo, and can’t sell your house.

Nancy Healy : you people (P&Z staff) don’t understand that not everyone has $500,000, or even $200 000, to spend on these “simple” changes.
Observation : Katie ? (Blankley’s daughter?), the supposed point man among P&Z staff for FEMA, is a robot.

Question from floor: have you guys ever looked at how many properties are being whipsawed by your various regs: FAR, lot coverage, FEMA regs, set backs, height, etc. so that they can’t be modified at all? And: No.

Q.(Mark Pruner to insurance broker Peter Carlson: what’s going to happen to flood insurance rates?
And: per-1974 houses are going to get jacked up, amount uncertain.
Q: worst case scenario for VE zone house per-1974. $250,000 coverage. Now, $7 500. For additional $1.8 coverage, today it’s $33,000- that will be going up. Lockwood resident: she was quoted $15,000 -$20,000 for the basic $250,000, but that was a guess based on no flood elevation certificate. Get one now: Mike Finkbeiner was charging $450 for them, other surveyors are getting $800 plus, so you know who to call.
Kate(DeLuca, turns out) says that she’d like affected homeowners to supply her with number of stories, elevation certificate, if available, and your problem with current P&Z regs. I’ll get an email address to submit that to.


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New David Attenborough nature narrative

I guess it’s all over the web, but I found it on Walter Olson’s Facebook page.


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Reminder: FEMA Reg meeting tonight

Last House standing -the "Diane Fox Model", Shorelands

Last House Standing – the “Diane Fox Model”, Shorelands

7:00 PM, Town Hall. Come! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder at the folly of man!


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It had to happen sooner or later

12 Baldwin Farms So.

12 Baldwin Farms So.

12 Baldwin Farms South, one of developer Jay Silver’s two failed projects here and currently asking $5.295 million, has finally found someone to make an acceptable offer.

Silver started off in 2007 asking $12.495 million, lost the place back to – who else? Patriot Bank in 2011, and left the scene, while Patriot tried, first, $7.499 (September ’11 Jim Campbell, broker; Jim’s on a losing streak) and various prices since then, culminating now with another broker and at what I’m sure they hope is near its final resting place. Perhaps the latest cut, from $5.700 to $5.295 will prove to be the trick, but I’d be astonished if the final sales price doesn’t begin with a four.

There wasn’t much to like about this house – certainly not at $12.5 or even $7.5 million, from its entrance via a stone causeway over the swamp that comprises its front yard, to the skimpy patch of yard in the rear (ignore the trick photography, it’s a handkerchief-sized back lawn), to the weird, sort-of-French-manor, formal  exterior, to the informal country kitchen look inside. I suspect a committee of architects deigned this place, with interference “input” from the developer. Whoever was responsible for the final result, they doomed it from ever achieving anything more than a fire-sale price.

So, is a price in the high-fours the right fire-sale? I suppose so – there’s a lot of house here, and it all seems to have been well made, exterior design notwithstanding. 2 1/2 acres, some of it useful, close to town, must be worth something, and I’m sure replacement cost for the house itself would be higher than this is selling for. Of course, if someone did replace this they could use a different architect, but hey – then you’d be paying more. There’s some very nice, livable space in here, so maybe you only arrive at night (leave the exterior lighting timer off).


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Okay, because this is, sort of, a blog about real estate, here’s a little real estate news

8 Colonial Lane

8 Colonial Lane

8 Colonial Lane, Riverside, is back on the market at the reduced price of $3.195.  Its owners tried for $3.595 back in 2009, couldn’t get it and rented it out instead. I don’t remember being hugely impressed by it back then, but a too-high price will affect one’s assessment of a home’s value. Given the subsequent rise in Riverside prices and the drop in price here, this may do it. (Picture used is a screen shot from that 2009 listing; current photos will doubtless be posted later today by the listing agent, so check back later).


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Not content with ruining ObamaCare, Republican saboteurs move south of the border

Awaiting the arrival of Bill de Blasio: Venezuelan maternity ward, circa 2013

Awaiting the arrival of Bill de Blasio: Venezuelan maternity ward, circa 2013

Venezuela’s health care system is collapsing.

The country’s 1999 constitution guarantees free universal health care to Venezuelans, who sit on the world’s largest proven oil reserves. President Nicolas Maduro’s government insists it’s complying. Yet of the country’s 100 fully functioning public hospitals, nine in 10 have just 7 percent of the supplies they need, Natera said.

The other nearly 200 public hospitals that existed when Chavez took office were largely replaced by a system of walk-in clinics run by Cuban doctors that have won praise for delivering preventative care to the neediest but do not treat serious illnesses.

The woes are not restricted to the public system.

Venezuela’s 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which must be imported, said Dr. Carlos Rosales, president of the association that represents them.

The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country’s patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance. Rosales said insurers, many state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and it is nearly impossible to meet payrolls and pay suppliers.

Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer.

“The health care crisis is an economic crisis. It is not a medical crisis,” said Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, who oversees labs at the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas.

“We don’t need no stinkin’ economic rules” FWIW reader Pal Joey snarled to our editors. “Universal healthcare is a human right, so it’s independent of reality. It’s those lousy, running dog wreckers and saboteurs who are denying us what we demand.”

Okay, Joey – see you at the clinic.


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I think I understand what he means by “the high ground”

Hey, dude, congrats on the big win - really smokin'!

Hey, dude, congrats on the big win – really smokin’!

In the face of a stunning defeat by all his candidates, across the board, Democrat Chairman Francis X. Fudrucker focused on the failed campaign to win the chairmanship of the BET and had this to say:

“We didn’t get enough votes to get the chairmanship, but what we did get was the high ground,” said Democratic Town Committee Chairman Frank Farricker. “There’s no question that responsible spending and responsible budgeting, the way that responsible people do it, is going to take the day in Greenwich. There is no question we won that debate in the community.”

He and Beth Krumeich must be sharing the same bong.


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The Black Knight won’t concede

Tesei won the Selectman’s contest, again, yet Democrat loser Beth Krumeich still sees hope. “We will keep getting stronger …we’re going to keep building the base that we’ve established in this race.” She stopped short of crying, “wait’ll next year”, but really, if her party continues its vote-getting pattern, if it “keeps getting stronger”, it will soon be nothing but a small, oily patch on the floor, “possibly creosote”. Here’s what I mean:

2013: Tesei, 73%

2011: Tesei, 71%

2009: Tesei, 66%

The trend is not your friend, Beth.


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Republican GOP – out of touch

McAulliff wins in Virginia, as follows:

McAuliff: 47.3%

Cuccinelli: 46%

Sarvis: 6.6%

Ignoring the point that Sarvis, a self-labelled “Libertarian” was actually funded by the Democrats to cut into Cuccinelli’s vote – that’s just smart politics, using a tactic the Stupid Party’s leadership couldn’t imagine doing to the other side – a majority of Virginians did not want McAuliff to win. The victory was there to take, but Cuccinelli is a Tea Party type who makes traditional Republicans uncomfortable, so they refused to fund his campaign. The GOP spent $9 million in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race, less than $3 million in this one. That’s not due to lack of money, that’s because the GOP is just another branch of the progressive movement and will do anything to preserve “progressive” (confiscation of other’s wealth, corporate cronyism)  ideas.

These are the same people and types who, on a tiny, petty scale, run things in Greenwich. Time for them all to go.


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How does this work? Why?

I checked the results for the BOE election – here’s how it came out:

Sherr (R) :               6,600

Bernstein (R):         6,494

Peldunas (R):         6,081

Erickson (D):          6,076

Applebaum (D)      5,654

Tamm (D)                2,853

It’s clear that more Greenwich voters preferred Brian Peldunas to any of the Democratic [sic] Party’s candidates, yet under our current set up, we couldn’t have him: we must have any equal number of Democrat BOE members as Republicans, and I ask why that should be so?

It’s hardly democratic, and it resulted in a fine candidate being denied a seat while two less qualified (according to the voters) candidates got on. That’s no way to run a railroad, or a town.


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