Greenwich is a great place to live. One of its greatest assets is the people that volunteer to serve on a wide variety of boards and in elected offices. These people bring a wealth of talents, education and prior experience to these positions and in the main come up with useful, cost effective solutions to problems.
Having said that one of the things that the Town could be do better is adopting more innovative solutions, more quickly. Some things I’d love to see are:
- A “Greenwich Card”
Right now, you have to have a beach card, a library card, a golf card, a parking card and several other forms of licenses to enjoy many of the benefits in Greenwich. The question is why do we need a different card for every activity. This system penalizes the occasional user. If you only play tennis once a year a $35 annual fee is excessive, particularly for a resident whose taxes help build and maintain these facilities.
Let’s have one card, that you only have to apply for one time, that lets you use the beach, the library, the golf course and can even be used to pay parking fees. One card would save both residents and government time and its basic cost could be rolled into our taxes. If you wanted to go the beach once a year, no problem and no standing in line for a beach card whether one time or annual. (Let’s also throw in 10 hours of metered parking.)
- Simplify and Make More Certain Land Use Decisions
At the present time, lots of simple land use decisions require lots of time, lots of money and lots of professionals. The usual procedure is you need to file an extensive formal application and will likely need to hire an attorney, a surveyor, a soil scientist and possible others. You and your hired professionals may also may have to appear before three or four land use agencies and wait hours for your application to be called. At the end of the day most of the applications end up getting approved.
But, that’s for the people that apply for permits. What we as Realtors see every week, are the number of people that got someone to do the work without the permits and are now having problems selling their homes. We see this kind of “illegal” work on properties in Byram on 0.1 acre and in the backcountry large lots and everywhere in between. We need an intermediate system where proposals that are likely to be approved, can be reviewed, tweaked as necessary and permitted quicker and for less money.
Now I’m not suggesting this procedure for big projects, but things like variances to setbacks for a deck where there are no neighbors shouldn’t need a full review. Either staff could approve the change or where a state statute requires the approval of the Commission these items could go on the consent calendar as the RTM does with motions. Any item needing a full review could be pulled off of the consent calendar with a majority vote.
As part of this the staff in each agency should be given more authority. Right now, the staff can’t say yes. They can say maybe or it’s possible, but woe be it if they say the full commission would allow something no matter how certain. At present lots of small things require full hearings. These commission hearings can go on for hours and even into the next day, before the application is heard. Once heard it may have to come back, for review of even smaller tweaks and then the homeowner may have to go to another commission who may not meet for another month(s). A lot of these decisions could be made at the staff level. If so we’d have shorter hearings, less expense for applicants and more compliance with the regulations.
- Making More Use of Under-Utilized Schools
Today, we have several elementary schools that are operating at full, or more than full capacity, and other elementary schools with empty classrooms. The geographic lines are very strictly drawn about where you have to go to school. I have a client whose son goes to Parkway, which does an excellent job, and they’d like to keep their son there with his friends. They are reluctant to move, because if he moves even a short distance out of the district he’ll have to go to a different elementary school unless he can get special permission.
Why not let students anywhere in town select any of the under-utilized schools? We relieve pressure on one school and better use the facilities at another school. It might actually help with some of our redistricting issues. If the parents bear the cost of transportation, it’s worth a trial.
- More Vacation Homes in Greenwich
For over a century Greenwich was known as a great place to have a summer house. We need to bring that back. Much of the pressure on sellers in the 2 and 4 acres zone is due to the loss of demand for summer and weekend homes. When I moved to the backcountry 20 years ago, half of the houses on our street were owned by people who lived out of town.
The real estate agencies here in town need to do a better job of bringing this market back. If you are a homeowner who has a house that would be a great weekend house, ask your agent what their firm is doing to reach out to the weekender and vacation home market. If you live here, tell your friends from out of town what a great place this is for weekenders and summer people. And if you are in town government there could always be a summer version of the Greenwich Card.
- Publicize our lower taxes to encourage buyers
When you got your tax bill for this fiscal year it was the same as last year or may even have gone down. Not many people outside of Greenwich know that. If you do a news search on Google for Greenwich lower property taxes 2018, very little comes up. My article from last week’s Greenwich Sentinel is there, but not much else. We have a great story to tell, but it isn’t getting much coverage.
Our sales over $10 million are up 350% from last year and our contracts are up 25% (now sales overall are down 5% for the year, but that’s mostly due to the $1.0 – $1.5 million range which seems to be a problem throughout the area). If you a reporter, you should tell your assignments editor there’s a story here and it’s likely to get better as those 120 contracts close.
- Support the Greenwich Sentinel
One of the great things about Greenwich is we have an excellent weekly paper covering a wide variety of people and stories and it deserves your support. It helps build the sense of community here in Greenwich and gives local vendors a way to reach people here in Greenwich. If you’ve been getting it free you should take out a paid subscription and support hometown news.