Zoning Changes Take Aim at Large, Multi-Family Homes
By Richard Kaufman
Last Thursday, the Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved multiple changes to the R-6 Zone regulations. Effective on June 9, the regulations most notably eliminate multi-family homes (three or more) in the zone.
The R-6 Zone is composed of 2,841 lots in the neighborhoods of Byram, Pemberwick, Chickahominy, Cos Cob and areas of Central Greenwich, which includes Milbank, Steamboat Road, the Fourth Ward, Bruce Park Avenue, Davis Avenue, and Orchard Place. Seventy-three percent of the dwellings are single and two-family homes, 18 percent are multi-family homes, and the rest of the zone is made up of vacant lots, five-family or more developments, and institutional, municipal, and business uses.
According to Planning & Zoning Director Katie DeLuca, complaints in the R-6 Zone have primarily focused on tear-downs and the bulk and size of the replacement structures, which she said have transformed Milbank Avenue and have cropped up in Cos Cob.
“When you look at where we are as a community with such little vacant land left, the R-6 is effectively built out,” DeLuca said. “These [large multi-family] developments are not in keeping with the traditional development patterns, and they generate opposition from the neighbors for being out of scale and generating too much change to the neighborhood.”
In some areas, these dwellings required the combining of lots for large-scale, multi-family developments. Complaints have also been aimed at the cost of re-development due to the application process requirements, and inflexible parking regulations.
Other issues included the loss of green space, the clear-cutting of trees, drainage concerns, excessive excavation and filling of sites, and over-development of undersized lots.
DeLuca said the overall goal of the proposed changes was to balance the preservation of the neighborhood character and streetscapes with redevelopment that is streamlined and keeps up with existing neighborhood patterns.
“These neighborhoods are made up of tree-lined streets that are walkable and deep-rooted families, many of whom pass their homes down from generation to generation,” DeLuca said.
“There are many historic homes that foster a tremendous amount of pride in that history. There is a continuity of character that identifies and fosters that sense of place and this is worthy of protection, but at the same time, sensible growth and change is welcome,” DeLuca added, noting that her comments echoed those in the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which the RTM adopted in 2009.
DeLuca pointed out that when the Planning & Zoning Commission and RTM adopted the POCD, they were allowing density in the R-6—but there still had to be separate structures that maintained the look and character of the single- and two-family-house neighborhoods. “This zoning regulation as proposed will go one step further to meeting that end,” she said.
In an effort to stay connected to the public and get input before officially proposing the changes, the commission held workshops and meetings and even hired BFJ Planning, an outside consultant, to help facilitate the meetings.
“The process was strongly focused on reaching as many people as we could, which is why we took the advice of a member of the public and mailed an informational note and notice of workshop to every property owner in the R-6 zone at one key juncture,” DeLuca said. “That action paid dividends as the public input was tremendously helpful in the crafting of this regulation.”
DeLuca said that during the workshops, people expressed concern that the R-6 is primarily where housing stock is the greatest, and removing multi-family homes would reduce the residential housing stock.
“This is not the case, because in fact the requirements for single family and two-family developments in terms of land requirements are less than that for multi-family,” DeLuca said.
A lot-size of 7,500 square feet is required for a single or two-family, or 3,750 square feet of land per family. A multi-family development requires a minimum of 12,600 square feet of land per unit, or 4,200 square feet of land.
At the hearing, DeLuca also said there were far more restrictive regulations and iterations of how development in this zone was permitted in past decades, including regulations that were far more restrictive for multi-family homes than they are today.
Most important, DeLuca says, the commission worked to make the new regulations more user-friendly and easier to understand. “[The Commission is] also heavily focused on continuing to do their part to implement the POCD.” She said. “The changes to the R-6 zone accomplish both of these things.”
Some of the key changes in the regulations:
6-13: Eliminate the restriction of window wells in green areas.
6-98: Eliminate the need for a special permit in favor of an administrative review.
6-98: Eliminate multi-family (three-family or more) in the R-6 Zone, and only permit it in the R-MF Zone.
6-155: Reduce on-site parking restrictions by allowing tandem parking spaces, and no longer require that cars must be able to turn around on the property.
6-205: Eliminate the need for a variance within the same block where there are three or more principal buildings that share non-conforming setbacks.
DeLuca said any application that is submitted on or after the effective date of June 9 will be reviewed against the new regulations.