'Increasingly urbanized:' Changing look of west end of Greenwich draws concerns

Photo of Robert Marchant
A proposal for 44 residential units at 581 W. Putnam Ave. is raising concerns about community character and overdevelopment on the west side of Greenwich.

A proposal for 44 residential units at 581 W. Putnam Ave. is raising concerns about community character and overdevelopment on the west side of Greenwich.

Contributed / Artist’s rendering

GREENWICH — As a developer puts forward a plan for a large modern apartment building on the west side of Greenwich, area residents are feeling apprehensive about the potential for overdevelopment and a loss of community character.

The building plan for 44 residential units in the West Putnam Avenue corridor is sparking criticism, with some saying that the area is taking on the look of a city, and a not particularly attractive one. Some 30 emailed comments and letters have been submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission over the proposal, and many community residents have been speaking out in recent weeks with their concerns about the changing nature of the west end of town.

A residential building proposed for 581 W. Putnam Ave. was intended to be integrated and blended into the Greenwich Office Park, sharing the visual characteristics of the commercial office site. The proposal has been modified and scaled down in different versions, with the latest proposal calling for 44 apartment units, including nine affordable units. Other large projects are in the works along the West Putnam corridor.

The residential building now under review at the location would be 47 feet high with four stories, another source of concern for the local neighborhood. The modified plans, put forward by developer John Fareri, are seen as a catalyst for a denser and more citified look and feel in the area.

“We are becoming increasingly urbanized, and that’s certainly not what I moved to Greenwich for,” Alison Walsh said during a recent hearing on the residential project. “This is my neighborhood. I don’t think we should concede this part of Greenwich to becoming a city. It’s already an over-dense area. ... We don’t want to be White Plains or Stamford.”

She said she hoped to maintain the trees in the area and the rocky outcroppings that lend a more natural flavor to the streetscape in the area of the proposed apartment building.

The traffic in the area has also been cited as a persistent concern, especially since the nearby Citarella market opened in 2015, drawing shoppers from around the region.

“There are preexisting traffic problems, and this is going to exacerbate them,” Walsh said.

A proposal for 44 residential units at 581 W. Putnam Ave. is raising concerns about community character and overdevelopment on the west side of Greenwich.

A proposal for 44 residential units at 581 W. Putnam Ave. is raising concerns about community character and overdevelopment on the west side of Greenwich.

Contributed / Artist’s rendering

John Cooper said the look of the west end is changing, and projects such as the one proposed for 581 West Putnam are accelerating the trend toward a more urban look and feel in that part of town.

“There’s a potential for the whole feel of a small town, that we’re going to lose it, as we build out,” he said.

Architect Laura Kaehler said she felt the community deserved good design and quality architecture.

“We should try to raise the design bar on all new civic and commercial buildings being constructed in the town so that we may enjoy and value them for decades to come,” she said.

Of the current proposal, she called it “monotonous,” and said some modifications in the design could make a big difference.

“We should have good, beautiful buildings for people to live in,” she said.

Fareri, the developer, said he was receptive to additional input on the proposal.

“You have my commitment. If there’s ways of improving things, we want to do that,” he said.

The application will also be put to additional review from the Architectural Review Committee.

Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman Margarita Alban said she understood the concerns from the nearby residents.

“Any time a multifamily comes up, and any time there’s something large that goes up, there’s concern. We think of ourselves as rural, that’s how we think of ourselves,” Alban said.

There was a potential for compromise, she said.

“We’re always trying to find that balance that retains our character, our sense of community and sense of place — and having diverse housing options,” Alban said.

The West Putnam Avenue property was the previous home of two dining and entertainment venues, Garbo’s and the Penthouse. The site has been in a dilapidated condition in recent years.