Since last January staff at the have been doing their homework for their big November 29th presentation. The subject: New residential “Green Area” restrictions.
Minimum Green Area Restrictions May Become Law
In a nutshell, the proposed regulations will create a proscribed ratio of green space to lot size that, if ratified, will become the law in Greenwich.
Juxtapose recent and with the word embedded in our town’s name and there is an enduring reminder: Green is Good. Doesn’t the fundamental lure of our leafy suburb pivot on the presence of trees, lawns, and open space? The answer is yes, and yet, the urge to pave, tar and brick is strong.
It’s Currently Legal to Pave 100% of Your Property
The proposed Green Area regulations are geared exclusively toward residential properties – commercial properties already have restrictions in place – and have the goal of preventing property owners from the curiously popular habit of paving over entire lots, or leaving something akin to a sliver of green.
According to P&Z Director, Diane Fox, the goal is not to be punitive. Rather, the intent is to preserve and enhance existing natural landscapes, rock outcrops, tree stands and grassed areas so they may be enjoyed by property owners, while at the same time keeping Greenwich Green.
The idea is to be fair and protect property values in neighborhoods. Having green areas will not only protect the environment, but will also allow for residents to take pleasure in their outdoor spaces, whether it be entertaining on the patio or moving along stepping stone paths through blooming gardens. These regulations are in response to the community's request through the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) to protect and enhance green space in town.
But My Property is Already a “Postage Stamp”
Roughly speaking, the quantity of green space required on a modest lot will be a fraction of what is required on a multi-acre lot. For residents of the smallest lots, in multi family homes, zoned R-6, the Green Area minimum will be 35%, with 65% available for buildings and paving.
Properties in the 4-acre zone, RA-4, will be required to maintain 84% green area, leaving 16% available for buildings and all the accoutrements typically found on properties in that zone: tennis court, swimming pool, and motor court.
ZONE Lot Size Min. % Green Area Requirements
RA-4 4-acre zone 84%
RA-2 2-acre zone 78%
RA-1 1-acre zone 72%
R-20 20,000 sq ft 62%
R-12 12,000 sq ft 55%
R-7 7,500 sq ft 50%
R-6* 7,500 sq ft 35%
Did these Ratios Come Out Of Thin Air?
These percentages were the result of exhaustive analysis of existing green areas of every property in every zone. Indeed, the Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning, Katie Blankley, was tasked with evaluating every single property in Greenwich. As a result, a model for each zone was created, and a formula based on lot size and corresponding minimum percentage of green space was recommended.
Should the restrictions be passed and become law, P&Z will be responsible for compliance, and in their parlance, “build-out” will be monitored. Yet, it is important to note that this is not a new function of the department. In fact, this is a responsibility assigned to P&Z and spelled out in the town charter that is the responsibility of P&Z to uphold Greenwich’s Plan of Conservation and Development, or “POCD,” last revised on May 12, 2009 and approved by the RTM. http://www.greenwichct.org/Home/DefaultDetail.asp?dcid=2674
The POCD specifies that it falls to P&Z “To reduce and manage runoff, establish regulations to limit impervious lot coverage and reduce site hydrology for all new construction on residential properties.” (p. 68 POCD)
Here We Go Again, Just Like With FAR
Everyone who has lived in Greenwich for a time remembers the controversy that ensued when the Floor-Area-Ratios (FAR) were first proposed. Many architects, engineers, and developers fought the restrictions to their activities, as did aspiring homeowners whose castles may have been just a twinkle in their eye.
It is important to note that the proposed Green Area regulations do not take away square footage of buildings. The Green Area regulations are entirely separate from the FAR requirements and there is no change to FAR.
Though some property owners will no doubt also view these regulations as a limitation on their activity, P&Z Director Fox estimates that 90% of residential properties will still have room to build out.
Furthermore, feedback was sought early in the process in hopes of minimizing a knee-jerk negative reaction. P&Z held hearings last January that resulted in adjustments that have been made to the proposed regulations. Input from engineers, architects, developers, as well as input from residents was contributed. Neighborhood meetings were held. Town departments, including the Department of Public Works (DPW), Parks & Recreation, and Wetlands cooperated in the process and provided input. Also, the regulations dovetail with the DPW’s “drainage manual,” the document that provides guidance for developers, engineers and local regulatory authorities for their projects. The new DPW drainage manual will be effective Jan 1, 2012, and is available at: http://www.greenwichct.org/PublicWorks/PublicWorks.asp
But I Was Going to Build a Patio
A key adjustment to the initial proposal is an exemption made for patios, decks, walkways, small-scale walkways and stepping-stone paths. These will count towards the required Green Area. In other words, though you won’t be able to pave right to the property line, there is no proposed change to how these particular improvements are regulated today.
What About Non-Conforming Lots?
Some small, nonconforming lots, such as are common in Byram and may amount to just 5,000 square feet, do not conform to the zone. According to Fox, “We can’t do anything about nonconforming lots. The majority of these properties will retain the potential to build out.”
Will I Have to Hire An Engineer?
Once the regulations become law, property owners will need to submit site plans prepared by an engineer in instances when they approach the minimum amount of green area required. Site plans have always been required for additions or new structures.
Know What You Have Before the Hearing
In anticipation of the upcoming presentation of the new regulations, property owners are invited to visit the Planning and Zoning Office starting on 11/28 to review a list showing an approximation of the green area currently on each property.
The P&Z public hearing to propose Green Area Requirements in residential zones is scheduled for Nov. 29th, 7pm at Town Hall.
Anyone with questions is encouraged to email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org