On Wednesday evening, the Historic District Commission reviewed proposed improvements to the Greenwich Avenue intersection at Havemeyer/Arch and Fawcett/Grigg submitted by the Dept of Public Works “to confirm that MI plans for the project conform with the existing Greenwich Avenue Historical District listed on the National Register for Historic Places.”
At the beginning of the three-hour session, which included testimony from about half a dozen members of the public, staff member Anne Young said that feedback had to be specific to the historical aspect of the area and not to traffic and parking.
The motion was presented by DPW Deputy Commissioner Jim Michel, who listed goals including improving pedestrian safety, adding parking stalls, creating a sense of place, increasing green space and improving accessibility for people with disabilities.
He said the main problem was getting Arch Street to better align with the Greenwich Avenue intersection.
Mr Michel suggested that when driving north from Arch Street to cross onto Havemeyer, drivers feel they are going up the one-way Greenwich Avenue in the wrong direction.
Plans for this intersection currently include a “fly lane” or bypass lane that will allow cars coming from the north on Arch St to turn right and go south on the avenue.
Mr Michel said DPW is open to ideas.
“We’re always open to ideas,” he said. “We are in the preliminary design phase. Everything you see here is very conceptual.”
“Sometimes we as engineers get the technical look,” he said.
He said DPW was working with Milone & MacBroom, which he described as an urban planning company.
He spoke about creating meeting spaces to build a “sense of place” and a “sense of neighborhood”.
HDC Chairman Stephen Bishop said the obelisk and triangle area next to the historic former post office is currently very well laid out.
“It makes such a statement. It is so beautiful and is now so well laid out. I think this plan doesn’t do him justice and really hurts him a lot. On that basis alone, I don’t think I can support this plan.”
He said he was torn about the Bolling memorial, which would be much closer to a new sidewalk, after grass was removed on Havemeyer lawn to move Arch Street north to better align the crossing.
“It’s so nicely located right now… Having that thing right on the road… I’m not sure I agree with that,” the HDC chairman said. “I find it more dignified and better off the road. Also, I think it’s a tremendous loss to lose so much of that beautiful lawn in front of the Havemeyer building… We need that kind of green space… That big beautiful lawn is such a treasure.”
Phillip Dodd said he didn’t mind the Bolling monument being moved closer to the pavement.
“I think opening it up to the sidewalk isn’t a bad idea…it just needs to be done very carefully, but I don’t see how this connection can be made without steps, which raises questions about a retaining wall and level changes…it.” there really isn’t enough information in what was presented tonight…”
HDC member Fifi Sheridan said it was important to preserve, if not enhance, the obelisk’s “sacredness and dignity.”
Sheridan said the Civil War Memorial (which is small and many people are unaware of its existence) should be given the same respect as the larger memorials.
Sheridan spoke about the historical significance of the crossing. She said Greenwich did not have a central borough until the Havemeyer family donated funds to build the school, which was built on farmland as a community center for over 700 children.
“That’s why the country is hilly,” she said. “The Havemeyer Building was the first monumental building to be built and it anchored Greenwich. Up until that point, City Hall had been in a clapboard structure at the top of the hill.”
“Then the Bruce siblings donated the funds for the new town hall and Mrs. Havemeyer donated the funds for the post office when her husband died. This created Central Greenwich. This is the heart of the community center.”
“I want to sympathize that Greenwich Avenue needs to be repaved, but do we have to do all of this to repave Greenwich Avenue?” she asked.
“Soul of Greenwich”
Commissioner Marie Williams said she has lived in Greenwich for 37 years and firmly believes that the crossing is “the soul of Greenwich” and that the monuments must be treated with great sensitivity.
“With all these historical monuments, they have to be treated with respect and with great sensitivity,” she said. “It lacks soul… It’s definitely the soul of Greenwich.”
Later, she said the idea of the abundant planting beds meant Williams historic New England towns were “more reserved” and generally less “exuberant with planting.”
“Because of the historic nature of this district compared to other New England cities, it was suggested that plantings and this type of renovation were not typical of other historic cities,” said Williams, who also asked “if that approach was the case.” appropriate for historic districts, particularly New England cities.”
“Maybe in California. Maybe it would do better in Florida,” Williams said. Williams said her closing comment was, “Parking, parking, parking as a problem. I’ve heard over the past few years that vacancy, vacancy in terms of commercial facilities on Greenwich Avenue is also an issue.”
During a public comment, licensed landscape architect Matt Popp spoke about the Bolling Memorial being so close to the sidewalk after improvements.
“We use about 75% of the buffering of open spaces. I think you’re going to need steps or a retaining wall,” Popp said. “Just saying there’s no impact – maybe in a technical sense – it’s hard to believe anyone could say that.”
Speaking about the proposed design of the triangle square in front of the former post office, he described it as lacking.
“The walks agree with nothing. They don’t even match the obelisk. This is an important thing that everyone should realize. Some cobblestones are suggested, and they look like they’re randomly placed. The landscape beds look cluttered. There is no seating. It’s hard to believe that someone who knows how the city uses this site came up with this design.”
He said that while bumpouts are good in some places, he doesn’t understand why a bumpout is suggested to add a “bypass” (fly road) through a bumpout.
“The overall character is missing,” he said. “I’ll call it what it is. It’s soulless.” Staff member Ms. Young read aloud a letter from Kerry Breed, which said her family had lived in the city since the 1960s and her mother-in-law, who died last week, was Rebecca Breed Greenwich’s former selectman and first selectman.
“You would be shocked to learn that our current First Selectman submitted a grant application with false and misleading information indicating that no parks or historic structures will be affected,” Breed wrote. “This intersection in the Havemeyer/Arch Street area has all of the following: park area, historical statues, memorial trees, obelisk, and designation on the Register of Historic Neighborhoods.”
“It is important that the historic jewel at the heart of Greenwich be destroyed, especially under false pretenses,” Breed concluded in her letter.
During a public comment, from a historical perspective, Sheryl Sorbaro said the project was not in the city’s best interest.
“I am so opposed to paving a large area on Arch Street next to the historic war memorials for the following reasons: It is unspeakable that building bulges would ruin the extensive lawn and green space with beautiful trees surrounding Arch Street and uphill,” said Sorbaro. “Even the historic war memorial right on the busy road just doesn’t give the dignity and respect it deserves.”
“Given the pandemic, I think we can all agree that preserving green spaces should be a priority. When I look at this plan, I see so much plaster and chaos,” Sorbaro continued. “It just doesn’t seem to have the symmetry, and it’s just a real shame.”
Adopt a bed program
Mr Michel said the curb extensions that were incorporated into the bulges provided places for beds to be planted and went on to talk about “adopt-a-beet” projects, where property owners take on the maintenance.
He said the response from the owner of the building that houses Starbucks, where there would be a plaza with benches, was positive and that he could see working with them.
He said he also expects restaurant owners might take responsibility for maintaining some beds.
The Commission voted on the Havemeyer/Arch crossing.
The request read:
“The submitted design application does not respect Arch Street/Greenwich Avenue and must reflect the existing triangular shape. In addition, the applicant is requested to return to HDC any provisions made by DPW on this plan, evidently relating to planting, seeding and landscaping, for discussion of details. In addition, HDC is supporting DPW to reach out to veterans associations regarding the new approach to the Bolling memorial and to initiate discussions to ensure the Civil War plaque and tree are preserved and visible.”
The vote was 8-0 for the proposal.
Voters: Martin Kagan, Philip Dodd, Jenny Larkin, Katie Brown, Marie Williams, Mary Shaw Marks, Fifi Sheridan and Stephen Bishop.