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McKinney Terrace – Where Do We Go From Here?

Affordable senior housing has been at McKinney Terrace, in the former Byram School building, for almost a quarter century. This housing has always met a neighborhood need.

Half of the 55 residents currently living in the 51 senior apartments at McKinney Terrace lived in western Greenwich prior to moving into this senior housing. They come from Byram, Chickahominy, Pemberwick and Glenville. The rest come from other parts of town – central Greenwich, Cos Cob, Riverside, Old Greenwich. Only two people currently living at McKinney Terrace were not previously Greenwich residents. One was employed in Greenwich but lived in Port Chester and the other was a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

Like residents of all the Housing Authority developments, McKinney Terrace residents lived in Greenwich, or else worked here, prior to moving into the housing. Those who live in the Housing Authority’s senior developments are typically long time Greenwich residents. Many are town natives.

The Housing Authority, faced with long waiting lists for both its senior and family housing, has developed a plan to build additional senior units at McKinney Terrace. This will not only help to meet what will be a growing need for more senior housing as our population becomes increasingly older, but will also allow for the redevelopment of the Housing Authority’s Quarry Knoll property to include much needed workforce housing.

The plan is to add 21 new senior apartments to the existing former school building and to build a separate building with 35 senior apartments on the 3.97 acre property. This would be a net gain of 54 units as 2 units in the old building would be eliminated. The addition to the existing building will also include new meeting rooms that would be open to the larger Byram community.

There will be no negative developmental impact on the Byram community.

Although the plan requires a redrawing of the boundary between the current R-6 and R-PHD-E zones to incorporate 173,705 square feet of property into the R-PHD-E elderly zone that is now in the R-6 zone, the plan is in complete conformity with the existing elderly zone. The total number of senior units that will be on the site, including the 56 new units, will be 105, well below the maximum number of units that would be permitted in the elderly zone. The floor area ratio and the percentage of lot coverage will also be well below the limit the zone allows, as will the number of bedrooms.In other words, the proposed development is less dense than the zoning permits.

Because this is senior housing, there will be no impact on the school population at the western end of town. And because of its location just off the Post Road, set apart with open space buffers, this additional senior housing at McKinney Terrace would be barely noticeable to much of the Byram community.

From a strictly planning and zoning perspective, the McKinney Terrace expansion does not present any serious obstacles to approval. It may have been in anticipation of a favorable response that the Housing Authority went before the Planning and Zoning Commission this past October, hoping to have all planning and zoning related issues resolved before going to the Board of Selectmen, thereby strengthening its position.

However, this was not a wise move. While the Housing Authority had developed its own legal arguments bolstering a procedural decision to go to Planning and Zoning before going to the Board of Selectmen, this course of action went contrary to the customary procedure according to which the proposal should have first gone to the Board of Selectmen. This served to create even more antagonism than already existed among the opponents of the plan. And the timing in October, during a heated political campaign, was not good.

As might have been predictable, the Planning and Zoning Commission threw the hot potato back to the Board of Selectmen, finding that “the application for MI and site plan are incomplete and deficient in that the certified owner of the property – town of Greenwich – has not given approval or authorized the HATG to use town-owned land for construction of additional elderly housing by the Housing Authority on this property.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission further instructed the Housing Authority to go to the Board of Selectmen for municipal improvement approval before returning to Planning and Zoning for P&Z municipal improvement approval. The Housing Authority would have to have this approval from the Board of Selectmen and return to the Planning and Zoning Commission no later that February 27.

From a political and practical point of view, it is clear that the Housing Authority always needed to first get municipal improvement approval from the Board of Selectmen as well as the First Selectman’s signature on its application to Planning and Zoning. Then, assuming there is Planning and Zoning approval of the housing plan, the Housing Authority must return to the Board of Selectmen for an amendment to its lease with the town.

However, the Housing Authority has withdrawn its application, probably uncertain about the wisdom of going before the Board of Selectmen at this time.

The future of affordable housing in Greenwich is in the hands of the three men who sit on the Board of Selectmen. They have the power to make it possible for a sound, well-thought-out affordable housing plan to move forward. Or they can effectively kill this plan, thereby dealing a severe blow to the larger cause of affordable housing in Greenwich. If the McKinney Terrace plan does not go forward, it is likely that there will be no significant new affordable housing built anywhere in Greenwich anytime in the foreseeable future.

That would be a shame.

The members of the Board of Selectmen need to hear not just from certain vocal people in Byram, but also from the many Greenwich residents who want to see our town make a greater effort to meet our affordable housing needs. Moving forward with the McKinney Terrace expansion can only benefit the people of Greenwich, including the Byram community.