Planning a Future in Greenwich

In the months ahead the Planning & Zoning Commission will be taking the first step in finalizing and implementing the 2009 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Members of the commission will be guided by five committees appointed by the First Selectman. Participants will include sixty or more volunteers from the community plus town department heads and representatives of the RTM and other organizations, along with the Planning & Zoning Commission itself. The five committees are: Downtown Study, Parking and Transportation, Housing Task Force, Town Properties and last, but certainly not least, the Plan Implementation Committee.

One might ask why it was necessary to appoint for the first time special First Selectman committees to activate a POCD that was approved by the RTM last June after a thorough public airing. One answer is that few of the recommendations of the 1998 POCD were ever acted upon. The Plan Implementation Committee, backed by the office of the First Selectman, is charged with seeing that this doesn’t happen again. Also, in spite of numerous public meetings and debates within the RTM, some issues were either too complex or controversial to produce a consensus. Rather than include plans lacking public agreement or adequate information, the POCD Committee decided that these areas should receive further study by broad based committees with members chosen to be both representative and qualified to address the specific issues.

Top priority was flooding and drainage stemming from overdevelopment that has grown worse with each new home that has been built. Citing runoff from driveways, roofs, patios and other impervious surfaces as a major contributor to flooding, the P&Z staff is undertaking a study in conjunction with the DPW to develop criteria that will limit the amount of residential building site coverage. The DPW also needs to update the 1954 Excavation and Fill Ordinance, and the town must comply with new federal and state environmental agency regulations
governing control of storm waters. Low- impact development will be encouraged by upgrading subdivision regulations to encompass erosion control and tree preservation.

It is encouraging to see a greater public recognition today of the critical role of trees in our environment. Besides enhancing the beauty of our neighborhoods, their root systems absorb water and ameliorate flooding; their leaves improve air quality by converting carbon dioxide to life-giving oxygen. The issue of unregulated clear cutting on private as well as public property is being actively pursued by the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.

Over the years there has been much talk and sporadic efforts to develop a master plan for the central business district of Greenwich. In 2008 an ad hoc committee known as The Downtown Census Group held a series of meetings in an attempt to formulate such a plan. But, having no official status, its recommendations received little serious consideration. And, who will forget the protracted debate over accepting the offer of some of our residents to provide private funding of $30 million for the total renovation of the aged, outmoded Havemeyer Building, and create a Greenwich Center for the Arts? Much to the regret of its many supporters, the proposal was stonewalled to death by those with other agendas. Attempting to achieve a consensus in Greenwich on accepting even such a magnanimous and constructive gift as this can be a frustrating experience. Yet, it illustrates the great need for a plan to guide future development of our core commercial, government and entertainment center, to address its longstanding parking and traffic issues, and create integrated public areas and facilities of which we can be proud.

The POCD also addressed the need for a comprehensive plan in Cos Cob similar to the successful Byram neighborhood plan that would address the community’s special problems of traffic and commercial development. Input from Cos Cob residents will be gathered through workshops. Other neighborhood plans will be developed for Old Greenwich, Pemberwick and Glenville.

Goals of another committee include creating an inventory of our natural resources in order to update the 2002 Open Space Plan. In collaboration with organizations such as Greenwich Land Trust, Audubon, Nature Conservancy and Wetlands Agency it will seek to develop ways to protect open land, water resources, flora and wildlife habitats.

Planning and Zoning recognizes that the objectives of these committees cannot be realized without the cooperation of town departments, especially the DPW and Parks & Rec. The commission realizes that there will be obstacles to overcome beyond its control. Accomplishing some objectives may require budgetary approval of the BET, others may need to run the political gauntlet of the RTM. For each committee there is a strategy, a projected time frame for plan completion, and obstacles that may prevent completion within the time frame. The
public and the RTM will be kept informed of progress through quarterly reports. Most importantly, this time there is an Implementation Committee with the authority to oversee and help shepherd important elements of the 2009 POCD to completion.

— Jack Moffly



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