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?