P&Z questions the new station plan on its “mid-century modern” architecture

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A new pre-application for changes to Greenwich Plaza, including the station and cinema, was submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday.

Lawyer Bruce Cohen said the plan now is to mostly renovate the existing buildings, but replace the cinema with a new mixed-use building with a restaurant and retail.

The proposal is less extensive than the previous proposal in 2019, which received preliminary approval but was ultimately withdrawn.

This plan included replacing the cinema with a pocket park and creating smaller boutique theaters and a bar/café to the west, and redoing the station to be much taller. There was also a proposed public-private arrangement with the city in which Greenwich would sell the air rights to the office buildings at 2 Steamboat Road. The deal didn’t work out.

“The air rights really have nothing to do with the north side of the tracks,” attorney Bruce Cohen said on behalf of the plaintiff. “It’s a self-contained property. Our sense is that much of what we’re offering here is of continued benefit to the city: new access to the platform, improved storefronts along Railroad Ave, and new interior work at the station. »

“The question of whether we can ever come to an agreement with the city on the south side… that is not on the table at the moment.”

Under the new proposal, the movie theater would be demolished and replaced with a building set back on two sides that includes a restaurant and retail businesses.

Mr Cohen said that before deciding to demolish the theatre, his client spoke with a number of theater operators, including The Avon in Stamford.

“The Avon, as you know, is run by a foundation, a not-for-profit organization, which is largely dependent on contributions. We don’t think that would translate well here,” Cohen said.

Entirely new building which would replace the cinema hall which would be demolished and replaced by a commercial space and a restaurant. The new, smaller building would be set back on two sides.
The existing cinema building at the corner of Steamboat Road and Railroad Avenue would be demolished.

Car park

The commission’s comments focused on parking. The site is already underparked by 100 spaces, and Mr. Cohen said the plaintiff will ensure that the parking lot is no longer out of compliance.

P&Z President Margarita Alban said she couldn’t stress enough that there was enough parking at the bottom of the avenue, which is tighter than the top.

“With a restaurant that can accommodate a lot of people at the same time, we would really like to see a good analysis of parking,” she said.

Ms Alban said there was more parking at the top of the avenue than at the bottom, but people didn’t like to park and walk.

“Be very careful about parking,” she said.

Existing entrance to Greenwich station.
Offered entry to Greenwich Station features a clock and a parapet.

“Mid-Century Modern” Architecture

Most of the comments focused on the proposed architecture, which the applicant’s architect said would have a harmonious relationship with the office buildings on the south side of the tracks, which are part of the same development.

Ms Alban said in the previous iteration of the proposal that the commission had worked with the applicant to have the architecture reflect elements of the buildings on Greenwich Avenue, which is a historic area.

“This proposal seemed to have reverted to something closer to the original look,” she said.

“I know that in the past and in the 2019 project, we have had a certain dynamic tension between the architectural views – those of the applicant, the panel, the panel members and the architectural review panel.

– Plaintiff’s attorney, Bruce Cohen

Project architect Frank Prial said most of the existing buildings along Railroad Ave would be cost-effectively “repurposed and capped”.

Prial said the station was exactly 50 years old and was designed by Emery Roth, whose company at the time was renowned in modern times.

“We believe this is a remarkable example of a smaller-scale approach that Emery Roth and his office have brought. Many buildings, now approaching 50 years of age, are recognized as contributing to the mid-century modernism,” Prial said. “We think there’s a remarkable opportunity here to explore that and make it an example of that.”

“But these buildings weren’t built in the middle of the last century,” Alban said.

Prial said the buildings date from 1970 and 1971. “Fifty years,” he said.

“I wouldn’t consider it mid-century,” Alban said. “Mid-century means the middle of the last century. It would have been the 50s.

“Very influenced by the 1950s and 1960s and very influenced by what happened in the 1960s. All these buildings from that period,” Prial said.

“I wonder if it’s necessary to couple that with what’s on the other side of the tracks,” said Peter Lowe.

Mr. Prial said again that it would be profitable and that the buildings on both sides of the tracks were built at the same time.

Dennis Yeskey described “mid-century modern” as a loose term.

“I hear what you’re doing. I like it,” he said. “We don’t really have any regulations that dictate an architectural style.”

But, he said, “You could say that our buildings that we want to fit into – the historic buildings in the neighborhood – (are from) the 1920s and 1930s. But if you look at them, they’re very clean. They don’t look old, and I’ve seen a lot of mid-century architecture fit in there really well.

With all the feedback on the architecture, Cohen said it would be helpful if the candidate could appear before the architecture review board soon.

“I know that in the past and in the 2019 project, we have had a certain dynamic tension between the architectural views – those of the applicant, the panel, the panel members and the architectural review panel,” said Cohen.

Curator Peter Levy said he liked the proposed architecture.

“What you’re showing is a beautiful, modern, streamlined design intent,” he said. “But the materials make a difference. You can get your idea of ​​modern steel and glass… what you see is more of metal panels and glass, which is not the same thing. You have this beautiful canopy for the replacement building, but then you have this parapet that looks like sheet metal.

Existing access to platform and skip.
Proposed access to the platform at the corner of Steamboat Rd and Railroad Ave.

Prial said the vision for the station itself would be more open and transparent, using aluminum and glass to let in more light. She would have a canopy over the entrance and a clock. He said the interior was “a bit tired” but there was “integrity” and attention to simplicity and usefulness of use.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to reassess and reconsider some of the materials used in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. You will notice that the flooring and stairs are original The heavy balcony would be replaced with a glass handrail to let in natural light.

Upstairs, Prial said there was no need to service a real ticket office since people use their phones to buy tickets. Removing the ticket office would allow for a more open space with light and views across the tracks.

Prial said they were looking at a way to treat the back of the building to give it more of a “green feel”.

Finally, the architect said the former Hopscotch Salon space at the western end of the development would be converted into offices.

Existing entrance to Greenwich station.
Offer entry to Greenwich station.
Greenwich Station’s upstairs waiting area lets in light with the elimination of the ticket office.

Rendering of the train platform with greenery along the back wall of buildings along Railroad Ave.

Unattractive gap between the back of the movie theater on Railroad Ave and the train platform.

Commissioner Nick Macri described the area as the gateway to Greenwich and asked about the tables and chairs outside the restaurant that will replace the cinema hall.

Prial said this iteration of the proposal doesn’t have the same pocket playpen shown in 2019. The outdoor tables and chairs shown in the render would be for restaurant patrons. Although Prial there would be a place for people to sit while waiting to be picked up, the renders did not clearly indicate where this might be.

Regarding circulation, commissioners noted that the previous application included drop-off spaces.

“Do you plan to address the traffic flow on Railroad Ave?” asked Commissioner Peter Lowe. “In the previous app there were spaces for vans etc. Is that all incorporated here?”

“We talked about disabled access and better deposit activation,” Alban said. “All of this I guess you can work into the plan. It’s good to think about how you could modernize and reflect current societal conditions.”

Mr. Cohen said there would be drop-off areas and the applicant would conduct a traffic study.

Commissioner Macri asked if there was any anticipation of future traffic. He expressed concern that ridership could return to where it was before Covid, with thousands of people crossing daily.

Mr. Cohen said that was a good point and that the applicant would do a study. He noted that there were significantly more rail journeys north in 2019 at the time of the first proposal.

Previous plans included drop off areas and featured a new station on the south side, which is no longer part of the proposal.

Regarding the green projection on the train platform, Macri noted that the whole area between the platform and the building always seemed like “a Netherlands”.

“More effort there would be really great,” he said.

Public Comment

In public comments, Lucy Krasnor said she opposed the demolition of the cinema, which she called reprehensible.

“I can’t believe a town of 62,000 people can’t support a movie theatre. When my husband and pre-Covid II went to the cinema on the weekends, we always found it full. They had a movie program convincing.

“If we don’t have a cinema on that particular site, I never see a cinema coming to Greenwich because the parking lot in the garage below was where most people would park and that wouldn’t can be provided nowhere else.This is the ideal site for a movie theatre.

“I can’t believe we can’t have a kind of small movie theater without an over-the-top restaurant and wine bar,” she said.

“People from Greenwich just weren’t going to that movie theater much,” attorney Cohen said.

Carol Lynch said the project was more like a “quick facelift” and given the empty retail storefronts on the avenue, she feared it would be difficult to fill the retail space on offer.

Ms. Alban explained that the proposed use was outside the purview of the commission, as retail was a permitted use under the regulations.

The commission recommended that the plaintiff go next to the CRA.

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