New P&Z Green Space Regulations to be Proposed

Keeping the Green in Greenwich

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: landuse@greenwichct.org

David Moyer November 22, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Won't stop "McMansions" -- people will just go UP more.
Peter F. Alexander November 22, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Please read the definition of Landscape Architect as defined by the State of Connecticut. We should be in charge not the PE brains. Sec. 20-367. Definitions. As used in this chapter: (1) "Board" means the State Board of Landscape Architects appointed under the provisions of section 20-368; (2) "The practice of landscape architecture" means rendering or offering to render the service of site planning, which may involve and encompass the design or management of land, the arrangement of natural and artificial elements, including, but not limited to, grading and incidental drainage, soil and erosion control, and planting plans, and the determination and consideration of inherent problems of the land relating to natural and artificial forces with concern for resource conservation in accordance with accepted professional standards of public health, safety and welfare, such service to be rendered to clients by consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, planning, specification, design or periodic observation; but does not include the physical implementation of such service, including, but not limited to, the actual on-site performance of grading, drainage, soil and erosion controls and planting work normally performed by builders, general contractors and subcontractors; and (3) "Landscape architect" means a person who holds a license to practice landscape architecture in this state under the authority of this chapter.
JC November 22, 2011 at 04:38 PM
As a home owner, I prefer to make my own decisions about how I use my property - of course, taking into account neighbors, neighborhood, and other town restrictions already in place.
Connecticut Patrician November 23, 2011 at 02:14 PM
When I was a kid, Greenwich was a free town. Sad.
Scott Elwell December 17, 2011 at 06:27 PM
I agree that this is going to far, though I have no clue where the line should be drawn. I was watching a special on PBS the other day talking about an area in Texas that is "free" from regulations. They showed a really nice waterfront community where this one family had lived for ages. The property next to him sold and was turned into an amusement park. No kidding, now 30 feet from his bedroom are tracks for a roller coaster.... I'm assuming that "Connecticut Patrician" doesn't want that kind of "free" regulations.... www.GreenwichCT.com


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