The Riverside Association statement to P&Z Commission on 8/1/2017

Thank you for leaving this application open until tonight.

In the interest of time and your packed agenda, I’ll make my remarks as brief as possible. 

The Sheephill Rd/Putnam Ave intersection is a busy gateway into the Riverside neighborhood both north and south of Route 1.  The buildings on the parcels at the Sheephill corner are tired and beyond their useful lives.   Riverside residents would love to see the property improved but nearly 500 of them have expressed concern – via an electronic petition – that this project is too large and creates major safety concerns at the intersection.  We made those concerns part of the public record in June.

The intersection comes with significant challenges.  It’s already busy.  The Sheephill approach is narrow.  Cars on Sheephill stack up, waiting first for the light and then waiting to make the left turn against traffic coming from Lockwood Lane.   Students who can’t ride a bus to middle school because they live too close cross Putnam here.  Route 1 itself is an extremely busy corridor and gets busier when traffic on I-95 comes to a standstill.  Traffic counts – even those conducted in a wintry February -- and the D grade level of service confirm residents’ perception of this poor performing, busy intersection.

Mr. Maitland posed an important question at the end of the last hearing [that I don’t believe the applicant has answered before/tonight]:  What would this project’s impact be if the owner simply built what was allowed as of right – without the housing component?  I would like to try to answer his question.

This 46,000 sq ft parcel in the LB zone allows an owner to build a 2 ½ story, 35 feet tall, 23,000 sq ft. building.  An as of right building be like the proposed project without its 3rd and 4th floors.  Parking needs would be determined by the types of businesses and offices in the building.  The applicant believes about 120 spaces must be provided.  (I subtracted the 17spaces that would have been set aside for apartment residents.) To get that much parking on the site, the applicant has planned for a two level underground parking garage as well as grade level parking.  Vehicles would enter and exit the site from Putnam Avenue only.

The 120 car parking capacity demonstrates a lot of commercial activity will take place at the site.  Understanding traffic volume during peak periods or traffic flows into and out of the development is impossible for us or the P&Z Commission to assess without knowing what kinds of businesses will operate in the building.  

But let’s take a look at the effect of a 120 space parking lot and underground garage on traffic along Putnam. 

o   Cars coming from McDonalds will make a right turn into the site.  They could get stuck behind others waiting to get in, depending on how the parking lot flows.  I hope there’s a good plan.

o   Cars coming from the direction of St. Catherine’s come through the intersection in the left lane after waiting for left turners at Sheephill, or they come through the intersection in the right lane and quickly shift to the left to make the turn into the site.

o   I could go on with examples but we know that the applicant has planned for many vehicles on site and their entrance and exit to the property will create additional congestion along Putnam Avenue.

o   Concurrent pedestrian phasing at the signal -- coming to this intersection soon according to DPW plans -- will put pedestrians out in the middle of traffic, using a crosswalk that’s no longer protected.

In sum, an as of right building – without the residential component – will have a substantial impact on this segment of Putnam Avenue.

Adding the residential component to the project adds the bulk and height to the building that Riverside residents and nearby neighbors in particular find very off-putting.  It’s out of character with anything else around.  The moderate income housing, which allows the applicant the possibility of an exit from the site on Sheephill Road – if the commission approves it.  -- shifts some of the burden of increased traffic on to a residential street near the intersection that already functions poorly.   This special approval driveway generates the huge safety concerns for cars and people at this corner that you heard about from Riverside residents in June.

The real solution here is for the Town to improve the intersection as was done at the St. Catherine’s intersection about 15 years ago.  In a perfect world, the upgrade would be in the works today because the intersection is a problem already.  Yes, there are impediments like the utility pole at the corner that needs to be moved and negotiations with property owners that need to take place.  But the applicant’s project itself creates a huge impediment or possibly a permanent barrier to the upgrade of this intersection.  No one has discussed in public that the foundation walls of the two-level garage are built right up to the property line along Sheephill Road.  I believe – unless you can tell me otherwise – those underground garage walls will severely limit the options to improve the intersection in the future.  In other words, the possibility of improving Sheephill with a dedicated left turn lane may be small to none.   Has anyone at the DPW considered this?

Where does this leave us?  We’re left hoping it all works.  We’re hoping the town can improve the intersection despite that underground garage wall.  An underground wall that they should have considered when the project  was first proposed.

We’re hoping the Band-Aid solution the applicant has proposed and offered to pay for --  the work on the traffic signal which will allow the advance green light for Sheephill Road and concurrent pedestrian phasing – won’t end with fatal consequences in that crosswalk.

We’re hoping a little girl riding her bike on the sidewalk is seen by the FedEx driver before he pulls out of the Sheephill driveway.

We’re hoping the Board of Education chair was overstating his position that the changes to this intersection are unacceptable to the Board of Ed.

We’re going to hope that the Band-Aid like improvements to the intersection are enough to encourage customers leaving via the Sheephill driveway to turn left, if they can get out into the road, rather than winding their way through residential streets to find another way out of the area.

And we’re hoping the mix of businesses and offices doesn’t generate so much vehicular traffic that this intersection is crippled to the point of functioning at level F.

Simply put:  The Riverside Association’s concerns brought before you at the June 27th hearing are not allayed.   We trust that planning decisions made in Greenwich rest on sound policy rather than hope.

The Riverside Association also knows its community, this intersection and how it operates.  Every good planner looks at both quantitative and qualitative data in making an informed decision on how to proceed.  The Association has provided that qualitative data in spades and you ignore it at your own peril.  The as of right project puts an intense use building on this corner.  The proposed project puts a very tall, intense use building on this corner.  Please vote “no” to this project as proposed.