Greenwich P&Z – these are the people running your town and controlling your property values

A reader sends along the following article on the conduct of the P&Z , along with this commentary:

if you have nothing to get angry about, here’s a thought:  read this description of a hearing in greenwich about a proposal to build a rowing club on a river.  might make sense in any normal community.  but here, the approval process requires a proponent of anything to go before a group of no-nothings with huge egos and unlimited time.  you’d have to be crazy to want to do business in  greenwich, imo

Here’s most of the article, from Greenwich Free Press. I include so much of it so that the full flavor of the evening can be appreciated. Our P&Z has made almost any application to do anything to a residence an exercise in torture; what they do to businesses, even one that, like this, has a plan to clear up the blight along this side of River Road with exactly the “water dependent use” demanded in this zone, is just awful. Next up for this applicant is an appearance before our Architectural Review Board – whoo boy.

At Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning commission meeting, Howard Winklevoss, whose famous identical twin sons Tyler and Cameron rowed in the Olympics, did not get the green light he hoped for his new Row America Club.

The club is planned on the former Fjord Fisheries site at 89 River Road, the familiar red building having recently been demolished. Back in August, three properties – 89, 143 and 137 River Rd – were sold to Mr. Winklevoss’s River Road Development, LLC for a sum of $6 million.

Row America, which also operates clubs in Westport and Rye, seeks to build a facility to include a retail store for safety equipment, merchandise and boats; offices for coaches; lockers; lavatory facilities; exercise area and a conference room and a multi-purpose room for meetings.

When Mr. Winkelvoss, represented by attorney Thomas Heagney, made a comparison of parking patterns at his Westport Club, with the proposed parking in Greenwich for 66 cars plus 3 handicapped spots, that’s when the trouble began.

Commissioner Nancy Ramer said the Westport Row America includes a gym and restaurant, and the Greenwich location will not. “You have apples and oranges here, where parking is concerned,” she said.

As for the inclusion of offices, Mr. Winkelvoss said, “These are for our people, coaches and Row America club officials – they’re not corporate offices.”

Commissioner Richard Maitland said he was concerned that 16 machines in the training room would result in more than 16 people in that room at any one time. “It all comes down to parking,” he said.

Mr. Winkelvoss said young rowers don’t require parking. “They carpool and are mostly under age and don’t drive,” he said. Besides, he added, “We can’t handle 60 adults because we don’t have enough coaches.”

Row America

The commissioners listed all the uses of the facility that will increase demands on parking. There is a retail showroom. There are two conference rooms. There are offices. There are three kitchens.  There is a laundry area. There will be staff who drive to work in addition to coaches.

“I come up with 75 spaces,” Mr. Maitland said. “That’s plus or minus 43, plus 16 for erg machines, and 14 for the excess space around erg machines for other functional uses I know will happen. We were troubled when a rowing facility appeared before us before.” Mr. Maitland said an important goal of the WB Zone is to increase views of the water for the public ‘Was there any thought of turning the building 90° to increase visibility of the water?”

Mr. Heagney said a key feature of the building design are its expansive windows on both sides, allowing a view through to the water.

“This one gives great views of the water for the rowing club, but the WB zone’s principal goal is visibility of the water for the public,” Maitland replied.

Row America from back

“You’ve got two operations, in Westport and Rye, which we can check. You want your Greenwich location to be a central location for your activity. It’s a different ballgame than what we’re used to,” Mr. Heller said. “I don’t contest any of this. I congratulate you. I think this is a hell of a good thing for the town.”

“We think there’s a lot of Olympians in town, and we just want to bring them forward,” Mr. Winkelvoss said, adding that Mr. D’Andrea had laid out a good, safe traffic pattern. “We would never put the kids at risk. The lanes are clearly marked. Kids aren’t milling around. They’re standing there waiting for their mothers to pick them up.”

“I want to see a layout of where you’re doing your set-up during the switch over,” commissioner Andy Fox said. He also asked why the layout of the walkway was in a semi-circle instead of a straight line, pointing out that the commission would like to see a continuous boardwalk. He also asked why it wasn’t 10 ft wide, noting that the boardwalk is 10 ft wide at Greenwich Water Club.

Mrs. Alban said she was concerned that there was a loss of continuity of the boardwalk, both in its distance from the water, its width and its material, which is not not boards.

“Has there been conversations between the three clubs?” Town Planner Katie DeLuca asked. “How how will the traffic in the narrow channel be coordinated? Who is in charge?”

Mr. Winkelvoss said Jamie Koven is establishing a non-profit Greenwich Rowing Foundation that he hopes will bring together the three rowing clubs for cooperation.

“We reached out to Brunswick and the Greenwich Water Club. We need to work together so our kids will all be safe,”Mr. Winkelvoss said. “We kind of got the cold shoulder from the Greenwich Water Club, but we’ll work that out.”

As for coordinating traffic on the water, Winkelvoss said, “You can’t have a buoy line in a federal channel. We’re working hard to get a separate, dredged channel and piggyback that onto the dredge next fall. We think we have a wonderful wealthy gentlemen who will fund that, or we can fund it together so we get a separate wide channel. If not, we’ll just have to go out on the right and come back on the left.”

Commissioners pointed out that there is no on street parking on River Road, which is well traveled and traffic moves quickly. Specifically, they asked the applicant to return with much more detail on the schedule of classes, and a more detailed and up to date traffic study.

“We’re concerned that the building will be used for non water dependent uses,” Commissioner Alban said, referring to the inclusion of rooms including three kitchens, two conference rooms and a laundry area.

Commissioner Peter Levy said he was concerned about the size of the building. “It towers above the road and it’s a very big building and takes up the site. Maybe it’s as simple as doing more landscaping to soften it,” he said.

Mr. Heagney said the building is designed within its Floor-Area-Ratio.

“It’s a very imposing building, although lovely and very expensive. It’s quite massive,” Mr. Levy said. “If you turn it 90° that would make a tremendous difference in how it’s perceived… This is a neighborhood.”

“We’re looking for something distinctive and architecturally significant,” Mr. Heagney said.

Patrick Larow, from the Planning & Zoning Dept, said Mr. Kral, owner of Greenwich Water Club, sent a letter asking the commission to reconsider the application.

“The trouble is you didn’t talk about anything on the water really,” said Frank Mazza, chair of the Harbor Management Commission. “There are problems out there already. We’ve had complaints about interaction between rowers and power boats. …Also, we just heard about maybe a little more dredging. There is not going to be any more dredging for a long long time.”

Don Conway said that at low tide, sailboats, power boats and rowing skulls all try to keep out of each other’s way. Lastly, he said when I95 backs up, people use River Road as a detour, which makes the parking and traffic study all the more important.

“I would hate to think that the Harbor Management Commission would be in the way of using the harbors,” Mr. Heagney said.

At the end of the night, rather than approving the application, the commission left the application open, requesting that the applicant to come back with a schedule of employees, including who’s going to be there and how long, and an updated traffic study. Also left open was the possibility that the building might be rotated 90° to open up view corridors to the water.

 

46 Comments

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46 responses to “Greenwich P&Z – these are the people running your town and controlling your property values

  1. Mickster

    Just a couple.of points: the money being invested here would suggest that it is going to be far more than a rowing club and secondly, that channel right there is too narrow without dredging. If they agreed to fund the dredging I would say go for it. Area has long been an eyesore. And I have rowed there many times.

  2. I can’t comment on the channel dredging and the parking etc, but I do wish the design of the building itself had been a tad more old school rowing club, a la Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill in Philly.

  3. Anonymous

    See? Your first two reader comments are made by people exactly like the ones who sit on the P & Z. One suggests darkly that it’s going to be “something far more than a rowing club” (fine, why do you care?)

    Then, your next commenter wants a traditional building. (Sorry about the money you’ve spent so far, Mr. Winkelvoss, but please submit a new, “old school” design, oh, and turn the building sideways, would you mind?)

    Proof positive that P & Z is exactly the same as the general public, a bunch of interfering nit-wits

    • Hey, that’s Mrs. Interfering Nit Wit to you.

      I’m all FOR this project but I can’t vote because I don’t live in Greenwich. I think it would be a grand opportunity for rowers in town -my opinion of what it “should” look like counts for nothing because I am not on the board, it wasn’t my money, etc etc etc. OK?

    • Mickster

      Au contraire, mon ami. I care not a whit except that it would make more sense to have that section of the harbor dredged if you’re planning to double or treble the boating traffic. Three kitchens would suggest other uses than what is in the application. Das all.

      • Cos Cobber

        I don’t think its realistic for any applicant to agree to dredge because the regulations and cost are completely and wholly unpredictable. The EPA could reverse its recent decisions tomorrow and forbid dredging. So small or even large fry can accept such an open ended condition.

        • Mickster

          In that case you’re going to have a nightmare on the water at low tide and don’t even mention the summer when you have power boat traffic !!
          I love this proposal, especially for this section of the waterfront but only if the channel is dredged.
          I think P&Z should be more concerned with traffic on the water than on the road here – most of these kids will be carpooled or bused.

  4. HS Mom

    It sounds more waterfront related then the Water Club’s restaurant, fitness club, yoga classes, art and yoga kid summer camps, and special events. Kral just doesn’t want any competition.

  5. Flash

    Waterfront access for the general public has been a problem since Beach Cards were invented. Parking has been a problem since the working class started buying them. And boating issues escalates when it’s time to pump the head.
    Put all that together and you get……..endless speculation

  6. Anonymous

    I bet HS Mom is right….this sounds like Rick Kral’s club in Cos Cob….

    I think it is currently an eye sore but now that it is going to be rezoned and redone —why not try to make it as best as possible for the next generation of uses. Its legitimate to worry about scale, parking, open space….OK—call me names now….

  7. Cos Cobber

    This all a complete pile of bull. I think some on the board are questioning this project to protect the Greenwich water club …just like when they shot down the GWC’s tennis proposal to protect the Greewich Raquet Club.
    It all reeks of protectionism.

    I’d like to file a permit to build a garbage transfer station or a coal depot just to see how excited they are about water dependent use now.

    We should be extremely thankful that some has a way to develop this site that doesn’t result In housing which would be a permanent loss to access to the community.

    • Kral sold this lot to Winkelvoss after P&Z shot down his plan for building an expansion of the Water Club. P&Z said that the gym/squash courts weren’t a waterfront use and weren’t consistent with the Waterfront zone. He then turned around and filed an 8-30g application to build affordable housing on the Cos Cob Inn site which would allow him to avoid current Town zoning rules. I’m not sure he’s high on the P&Z Xmas card list.

      • Cos Cobber

        I understand. However, maybe he calls the P&Z and tells a couple members he will self the 8-30g application if they give the rowing club a hard time. To me the 8-30g app was always some chip he was setting up for something else.

      • Anonymous

        He took the affordable housing threat playbook straight from George Lucas. Bravo. When that happens, the true color of NIMBY elitist politics comes shining through, regardless of one’s political affiliation (although it’s particularly comical when the gov’t entity is left-leaning do-gooders).

      • Wrong.
        Kral did not sell to Winkster
        He bought it from Fred Peters, Kral stood up for as long as he could.as Land Lease Holder.

  8. Publius

    Unfortunately P&Z committees in many towns suffer from the same overbearing micromanagement. There is some need for oversight but in many cases it becomes an exercise in both torture and personal tastes. In a town like Greenwich it would appear to be less damaging given that the tax base is diversified between residential and commercial and values are robust. The P&Z in the CT town where I live has managed to bury any new business or expansion of existing businesses for years in piles of BS including the # of parking spots, traffic studies, heights of buildings and my favorite the “character of the town”. The mill rate in my town is almost twice that of Greenwich and the % of the grand list that is listed as commercial hovers around 5%. In the local area it is known as anti- business. To add insult to injury, the Economic Development Committee keeps trying to find ways to bring new business to town and it says it’s “open for business” while the Board of Finance is reviewing various proposals for senior property tax relief because they are getting chased out of town because of the increasing property taxes. Comforting to know that the character of the town is intact while the population of the town declines (per Census Bureau), notably younger families.

    I don’t live in Greenwich and while I am aware of the area that this project is planned and I don’t know all the minutiae but I think it is a good use for the property. I like the architecture very much and I applaud the efforts of a private citizen/organization to put up their own resources to get this done. Presumably if this were say a pool in Byram or a new school for the great unwashed in western Greenwich, or a central fire station that looks like a museum, that is OK. The only thing that should be rotated is the P&Z commission on a spit and for that I would donate money to offset the legal costs of the applicant.

    • Cos Cobber

      Plubius…your comments reminds me why I didn’t look too closely at many other towns when moving into the area many years ago. I didn’t want to be in a place that over emphasis planning non sense while blind to the fact they had killed the residential tax payer in the process. Every one of those towns is trapped in a RE Tax cycle which will continue to outstrip inflation and ultimately lead to lower property vales (ahem Westchester).

      While Gwich has its many anti business moments on the P&Z, overall there is a decent amount of commercial leeway in the town, much more than most like communities.

      • Publius

        CC,

        I agree 100%. Greenwich has a lot going for it despite all the efforts to blow it up to wit
        – It has one of, if not the lowest mill rate in the state of CT
        – A better diversification of tax base between residential/commercial that drives the mill rate
        – The schools system is very good in spite of the administration
        – It is very close to transport and NYC
        – It does have “character” with as nice a downtown as any other city of comparable size that I can think of
        – Despite the stereotype, there is a reasonable diversification of the housing stock/neighborhoods to choose from
        – It has a diverse topography, from LIS waterfront to the back country, much to choose from
        – Apparently there is an enclave of “Eyetalians” that adds to the diversity along with “western Greenwich”
        – Not everyone in Greenwich is a jerk, although the % of population that is probably puts it near the top in the state…. Greenwich does everything big..

        The down side is cost, but if you look at all in cost, property taxes being big component of that, compared to what you get, I would argue that Greenwich’s all in cost is competitive with other FFC towns

        I would say that you made the best choice.

  9. Yet at the same time, the same P&Z commission sees no issue with allowing a 6,600 sq ft commercial building to be constructed on the Christ Church campus for the new Neighbor to Neighbor facility. Complete with conference rooms, loading docks and back-up generators. In an R-20 zone. Its the lack of consistency that is the truly frustrating part of the process.

  10. What do residents of River Road think? I don’t drive that strip that often unless 95 is backed up, so would traffic become an issue?

    • Cos Cobber

      As a resident of CC south of Rte 1, this project is slam dunk.
      -Vastly improve the street view/curb appeal vs rotting buildings
      -The impact on traffic will be minimal. The parking concerns are overblown.

      Traffic problems in Cos Cob start with I95. If I95 is jammed, then CC is jammed. A distance second to traffic problems in CC is the high school. Mid afternoon when school lets out can lead to a rush on rte 1 that can take some time to dissipate.

      I haven’t met anyone opposed. No one at all. Remember, with all these naysayers, its typical that at a hearing the one naysayer shows up while the vast silent majority stays home.

  11. For more on overactive P&Z departments, see the story of the mosque that wasn’t at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/11/nyregion/muslims-sue-over-denial-of-bid-to-build-mosque-in-new-jersey-suburb.html . I know some people were upset about the synagogue in Cos Cob, but Basking Ridge took it to a whole new level.

  12. Anonymous

    Publius/Cos Cobber…..you were kidding when you said “It has one of, if not the lowest mill rate in the state of CT….

    In the land of the blind, one eye is King.

    This state is BLEEDING from the ever increasing mill rate increases, including Greenwich. Don’t you read all the RICH folks moving out of GREENWICH. Greenwich is well on its way to being Westchester East with our “low and predictable tax increases.” What will be left all the entitled people expecting ever increasing FREE Town services….and no rich folks to pay for them.

    Wake the F**** up.

    • Publius

      Sir or Madam,

      Your are an imbecile.

      Mathematically, Greenwich with a mill rate of 11.271 has the second lowest mill rate in the state (Salisbury # 1 @ 10.7) The # of mills is dictated by town’s budget not by the State, if a town is profligate and the Grand List is smaller, then the mill rate is high, Think Hartford with a mill rate of 74.29. The link below will take you to the state mill rates and will explain to you what the represent

      http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2987&q=385976

      People leaving Greenwich are doing so based on the state of the state not the town itself. If Greenwich were to cut their budget by 50% and the mill rate dropped accordingly, people would still be leaving the state because what goes on in Hartford is driving the bus.

      I have been awake for some time, but you are clueless. You might want to consider doing some homework before letting rip your idiotic spew.

    • Cos Cobber

      You clearly don’t have a handle on property taxes. Find me a lower mill rate in a town of 60k north of Washington DC than Greenwich. I don’t think you can.

  13. Anonymous

    Can P&Z legally tell someone how to position a building or what they can build on a commercial site? Doesn’t it work such that as long as I am in the guidelines of what the rules say I can build what I want? I would think someone could just sue if rejected…similar to the chase bank project in Cos Cob where Farriker rejected it because it was six houses down from his and he didn’t like it. Some BS about traffic, but in my opinion traffic flows better now that Dunkin Donuts and Chase are combined. Family that owned land threatened to sue..P&Z approved it one week later.

    I put an addition on my house in a flood zone and when submitting the application the town told me they didn’t want flood zone properties expanded unless they were raised even though I was within the limit and the zoning rules said I didn’t have to. They wanted to reject my application, but I asked them to point me to the text that provided them with legal standing to reject my application. Odd silence and it was approved one week later.

  14. Anonymous

    Don’t know why they went with this fugly design for Greenwich — the Saugatuck Rowing Club, which is the Westport facility, is beautiful. But the design is not a huge issue. Clearly this is a proposed use focused not on water, but on restaurant/gym facilities, though.

  15. As usual, Publius captures it perfectly: the community review by P & Z is “an exercise in both torture and personal tastes”. What is it about real estate that allows everyone, absolutely anyone to say what an individual can do with his real estate? too big, too small, too old, too new, turn it sideways, take out the ERG machines, more parking, blahblahblah…….

    Some high functioning rich people want to build a brand new facility for youth and adult sports, using Greenwich’s waterfront location. We should say: “wonderful”. Instead, like the crazy queen in Alice in Wonderland, we say: “off! with their heads……”

  16. Anonymous

    What no one has mentioned and is what I think is a deal killer is where is Sandy’s fruit stand going to go?!?!?!

    • Cos Cobber

      Maybe it can be combined with the rusting furniture at Patio.com

      Wonder what will replace Apadana….I’m hoping for a bread store…or taxidermy….as you can see my tastes and needs vary.

  17. Is it OK to say besides a view killer to waterfront it is uglier than the West Putnam CVS?

    • Cos Cobber

      Huh, I don’t care for modern – but in this case, I think it looks fine.

      • Yup, but wait til the architectural review board gets through with it. They make their P&Z peers appear almost competent, and that’s a very hard thing to do.

        • Cos Cobber

          I do remember when FF declared the hideous aluminum siding on the Liquor store in Riverside possibly of historical significance and must be preserved. I think that doozey of a moment was about 8 years ago now.

          • Oh my, I’d forgotten that one. The poor owner was half-way through installing something less hideous when he was ordered to stop, and had to wait months (and incur legal fees, no doubt) so that Frankie and the boys could rhapsodize about shiny aluminum siding and, as you say, its historical significance.

        • Cos Cobber

          Glad you remember….I was hoping I wasn’t the other one.

          Somewhere an FF type is debating historical asbestos and lead.

  18. RaisedInRiverside

    I don’t mind it, though I wish the design had a more New England look. That said, it’ll be an improvement on that stretch of River Rd.

    I wish this was more than a private rowing club, though. What we really need is more waterfront dining options. We have L’Escale and the concession stands at the beach – that’s it. For a waterfront town, it’s sad. Makes me actually miss Chart House…

    A low-key American/seafood place would be a great addition to that part of Cos Cob, if they could figure out parking that would appease P&Z.

    • Believe it or not, our P&Z has banned restaurants from our waterfront because they are not a “water dependent use”. No shit.
      I refer you to the title of this post.

  19. RyeReader

    I live in Rye and pass Row America’s Rye location daily and can comment on the vehicle traffic. In a word it is more than you think. Carpools? Not so much. Mommy’s picking up their kids – yes. Idling on the road – yes. Parking on both sides of the road waiting for their kids turning Milton Road into one lane – yes.

    But with all of the above said it is a good thing for Rye and I am for the program.

  20. greenwich dude

    i think this project looks gorgeous
    i don’t row, but … maybe i should start!

    • Until someone stole it, I used to row my scull on the Sound in the early morning, when the seas were flat and the power boats still in their berths. Fabulous experience, and a great workout, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.