By Peter J. Tesei
The Town of Greenwich has a proud legacy of meeting the needs of its senior residents. It provides a property tax relief program, a senior center with supportive programs, The Nathaniel Witherell Skilled Nursing/Rehabilitation Facility, and supported housing for low to moderate income residents through Greenwich Communities (Housing Authority of the Town of Greenwich). In addition, there are a plethora of non-profit organizations that provide lifestyle enriching services to our senior population. Many of our seniors are actively engaged in these organizations, giving of their time, talent and treasure.
The 2019 Town of Greenwich Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) identified the need to do more to meet the growing needs of this expanding population. Through the POCD “Objective 2.3 Facilitate housing options that encourage seniors to stay in Greenwich (“aging in place”) and are designed for enjoyment of all.”
Specific identified action items are to “promote age-friendly housing options in or near walkable, pedestrian friendlyareas with one-floor living, lifestyle amenities, elevators, limited maintenance, and proximity to restaurants and otherretail, develop regulations for assisted living facilities and comprehensive care communities, track the projected growth of the Town’s senior population against development opportunities for age-restricted housing and adjust Building Zone Regulations as necessary”.
Fortunately, the Town has the opportunity to begin to address this priority need with a pending application before the Planning & Zoning Commission to create a “Managed Residential Community Overlay Zone (MRCO). Unlike the existingR-PHD-E and CCRC regulations the (MRCO) is to encourage the development of age-friendly housing options that provide “assisted living services” to broaden the range of housing and health care options for Greenwich’s increasing elderly populations. According to the 2020 US Census, 18.1% of Greenwich’s population is 65 years of age or older and approximately 24.4% is 60 years of age or older.
The (MRCO) is designed to encourage such housing developments in close proximity to commercial centers and provide attractive congregate housing for elderly residents within the context of the Town’s predominately residential character. Section 19a-693 of the Connecticut General Statutes provides applicable definition for an (MRCO): “Assisted living services” means nursing services and assistance with activities of daily living provided to residents living within a managed residential community having supportive services that encourage persons primarily fifty-five years of age or older to maintain a maximum level of independence.
The (MRCO) application for the proposed development is at the end of Old Track Road on a 2.534- acre site formerlyowned by a local excavating business. The site is within the Town’s public sewer and water services areas and is easilyaccessible to mass transportation, services and Town amenities. The applicant presently owns and operates a similar facility in Scarsdale, New York, www.theambassadorscarsdale.com and it runs at 100% occupancy. The applicant proposes to construct a 3 ½ story, 98,058+/- square foot building at the terminus of Old Track Road. The facility would include (104) 1-bedroom assisted living apartments and 30 memory care studio units. There will be a performing arts space, wellness center, on-site hairand beauty salon, small cinema, a dining room and bistro.
Current elderly zoning in the General Business Zone permits a 47 feet high building with 0.9 FAR for non-profit development. This proposal is at 0.89 FAR and at a 42.5 feet height. Since the existing regulations have been in placeno non-profit provider has come forward because it is not economically viable. And prior for-profit providers have failedin getting permission with required FAR to attain any reasonable return on investment.
This proposal is conceptually supported by the Greenwich Commission on Aging (COA) through their 2019 “Age-Friendly Action Plan”. On page 18, the COA states, “We Heard: The Town lacks a variety of different types of housingoptions that are conducive to meet the needs of different older adults enabling them to successfully age in place within our community.” It further states “We Are: Promoting changes within our planning and zoning regulations to encourage the development of a variety of different housing options for people to age-in-place within our community.” And the COA says “We Will: Include in the new POCD three items that pertain to housing for older adults. The development of more options to allow older adults to age in place. Enable development and redevelopment with an age-friendly lens.” The proposed (MRCO) regulation specifically addresses the COA action to “Enhance the regulatory framework in the Town of Greenwich to promote a variety of different housing options for people to age-in-place within our community.”
The proposed development site at Old Track Road is strongly favored by many of the surrounding neighbors because it will provide a more attractive view then what currently exists and would provide noise mitigation from the nearby Metro-North railroad and I-95 highway.
At the July 14, 2020 Planning and Zoning pre-application hearing, the following testimony was provided:
“We are very, very happy that somebody would even consider developing the site that Amba is trying to develop. It’s a very difficult site because there’s a train track… I can’t imagine a better use for this site than an assisted livingcommunity. And I mean that with all of our heart, because we lived through a lot of construction already on that site because of Eversource. So, we are fully supportive as people who live beside this community of any development that needs to be done to improve this site…we look at it every day and we would have no problem even if it we’re higher because quite honestly it would block the noise from the highway; so, we support it at any height”. (Kyle Milne)
On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will begin at 5pm via ZOOM and will take public comment on this proposed (MRCO) regulation and preliminary site plan application for Old Track Road.
The meeting link is https://www.greenwichct.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/6955?fileID=120187
Join me in requesting the Planning and Zoning Commission fulfill the objectives of the Commission on Aging – Age-Friendly Action Plan, the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development and most of all the promise to our growing, treasured senior residents by affirmatively acting on this proposal.
Peter J. Tesei, Former Six-term Greenwich First Selectman 2007-2019