Greenwich Neighbors Fire Back at Critics After Opposing Cos Cob Housing Development

A rendering of the proposed housing development on Strickland Road in Greenwich (Contributed by Sam Romeo).

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GREENWICH — A local housing official called their arguments “shallow,” but neighbors are firing back at critics after circulating an online petition opposing a Cos Cob affordable housing development. The petition garnered more than 150 signatures, and prompted a debate on the social media platform Nextdoor.

Neighbors say the plan for 0 Strickland Road would increase traffic, worsen existing flooding and “drastically change” the character of the residential neighborhood.

Greenwich Communities, the developer, offered to lease a town-owned parking lot servicing the Cos Cob Train Station and transform it into a 48-apartment residential development. Sam Romeo, chair of the authority’s Board of Commissioners, said all of the units would meet state standards for affordability, and would provide housing for local teachers, firefighters and families.

The 2.7-acre commuter lot abuts the train station, Interstate 95, single-family houses and townhouse complexes. In the petition, residents argued that traffic to and from the train station is already very busy, and said Strickland Road is prone to flooding.

But on Wednesday, Romeo said many of their concerns were unjustified.

“It’s always, ‘We’re in favor of it, but not here,’” he said. “A lot of their arguments are shallow.”

Under state statute 8-30g, Greenwich must either ensure that 10 percent of its housing stock meets the state standard for affordability or private developers can largely bypass local zoning laws to build developments with affordable housing. Romeo, a former leader of the Republican Town Committee, said that, unlike most private developments, the 48 two-bedroom apartments would be fully-affordable, and would move Greenwich’s 5.3 percent affordability closer to the state’s 10 percent goal.

While Romeo said he understood concerns about traffic and flooding, he said he’s very familiar with the area and doubts the development will bring much change. Regardless, he said, those impacts will be studied when Greenwich Communities presents a final application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Along with Romeo, some commenters on the Nextdoor posting called the opposition “pure NIMBYism.” But several who signed the petition pushed back on Thursday saying that their concerns were legitimate.

“I find it incredibly insulting to my intelligence and my character. A low blow,” Staci Feinstein said of the comments. “I think we should all be trying to come up with the best [proposal] for everybody.”

Feinstein, who lives in a townhouse across the street from the commuter lot, said she already deals with cars driving too quickly down her street. She said she also worries about increased emissions and traffic noise given the neighborhood’s proximity to the highway, Metro-North rail line and the Cos Cob Power Station.

Along with the apartments, Greenwich Communities has proposed to build more than 100 parking spaces, creating an underground garage for Metro-North commuters who currently park in the lot.

But Feinstein said she was already scared to walk her dog during peak traffic hours and the development would only add to the traffic. She said she also worries that emergency vehicles will have trouble accessing the new apartments when there is flooding.

“Strickland Road floods when you sneeze,” Feinstein said. “God forbid there really is a reason for evacuation. It’s actually scary.”

Nearby resident Susan Ferris warned that Greenwich Communities would need to remove much of the forest between the lot and the highway in order to build the housing and parking. If the housing authority adjusted the details of its proposal, she said they could earn her support.

“If they had something smaller, something that was feasible in terms of the environment or the square footage … I wouldn’t be against it,” Ferris said.

Ginger Leilani Chapin, a Cos Cob resident who signed the petition, she she’s concerned about sustainability, not the character of the neighborhood.

Chapin said she understands that local officials need to meet the state mandate, but suggested that Greenwich converts blighted properties into affordable housing rather than building anew in residential neighborhoods.

“I want our town to put their foot down and say, “We want sustainable, LEED-certified [development] in the right places,” she said. “We’re not saying NIMBY [not in my backyard]. We’re saying, not in a stupid place.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo told CT Examiner on Thursday that he understands both sides. While some of the neighbor concerns are fair, he said, the town is also trying to keep developers from taking advantage of 8-30g.

“If I lived there, my first reaction would be, ‘No,’” he said. “None of us like these projects. These 8-30g’s only benefit developers.”

Camillo said Greenwich Communities has been working hard to create a fully affordable development, but acknowledged that the views of neighbors should be considered. 

A community forum to discuss the proposal is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting room. Romeo said he’s looking forward to hearing from the neighbors, and claimed state support for the project.

“I’ve had conversations with the governor’s office, and they seem to be really interested in this project,” he said. 

Romeo said the development is estimated to cost roughly $26 million, and would likely be funded using tax credits from the state, not town funds. Income limits on the apartments would be determined later in the process.