Excellent article in Greenwich Free Press on the proposed FAR changes

Not Berlin, 1944, but Greenwich, 2016 It's slowly dawning me that Greenwich has a real newspaper again; still limited, because it is, I believe, staffed pretty much by just Leslie Yaeger,  a one-woman show with a few high school interns, but she's doing actual reporting, filling the vacuum created when Greenwich Time stopped doing that. (And I may be wrong; there could well be others involved by now, but Yeager founded the paper and is the guiding force behind it.)

Here's a link to the FAR discussion, which should really be read in its entirety.

You can skim over the comments of our town planner, the truly incompetent Katie Blankley DeLuded, who tries to make it seem that FAR has been with us "since the 60s" - if it was, I can confidently state that it wasn't an issue until the 90s: I was practicing real estate law back in the 80s and early 90s and never - not once - was any kind of FAR restriction a consideration when vetting proposed home purchases.

But forget Katie, and read what FAR is doing to the town, from "mushroom roofs" to FARports to burying basements. I've railed about all of this for years, but the article provides a through, complete presentation, all in one piece. Here are some snippets, but really, read the whole thing, because this issue affects every homeowner in Greenwich, either as someone who's watching her property's value decline, or as a neighbor who's threatened with a huge retaining wall going up next door, or just as a resident who bemoans the destruction of so many older houses in our town.

Paul Pugliesi, who is president of Greenwich Land Company, a board member of the Greenwich Preservation Trust, and chair of the town’s Architectural Review Committee, agreed with Hatton.

“If you’re a buyer looking at an older house with an attic and a basement and wondering what options exist for adding on, you’re stuck paying for a full survey, which could cost $3,000-$5,000 just to determine FAR and existing grades,” Pugliesi said. “You have to hire an engineer to calculate and certify the grade plane. And that’s even before you hire someone to do drawings.”

Pugliesi estimated it can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 just to exclude the basement from FAR and be in a position to add some square footage to an existing house.

Pugliesi said the existing regulations on FAR that count basement and attic are a disincentive to hold on to an older house.

“A lot of people are thinking of this proposal as a new house amendment, but it would impact existing houses, including historic homes,” he said. “The Greenwich Preservation trust and Greenwich Preservation Network are looking for ways to incentivize people to keep older homes.”

Pugliesi said there are old homes in Greenwich that exceed FAR because of their attics and basements. “Rather than raise the grade and add trusses in the attic, in order to expand, if the amendment goes through, owners of old houses can discount the basement space. It might give additional FAR to expand a kitchen or add on to the second floor,” Pugliesi said. “That could make the older home more appealing to the market.”

“If you take the point of view that all older houses have no value, you might as well throw your hands up and expect them all to be replaced. If they do the grade plane adjustment, we’ll end up with a two foot  height increase,” Pugliesi said, referring to the proposed maximum height of 37 feet instead of the existing 35 feet. “The house still looks the same from the outside.”

Pugliesi said that the way building height is calculated has changed. Previously the height was measured from the midpoint of the space between attic floor and peak of the roof.  When the grade plane was introduced, they changed it to begin measuring from the peak of the roof, but did not allow for enough increase in height,” he said, adding that there was more than one house where the builder had to lop off a section of the roof in order to comply.

Pugliesi said the maximum 35 ft height is used up quickly with a 9-foot floor to ceiling height per story, plus a foot for the space between stories (floor and joists). Given 10 feet for the first floor, 10 feet for the second floor, plus 5 feet for the basement, only 10 feet remain for the whole roof structure. “You won’t find a single 21st century house with a 9-foot ceiling as new construction features higher ceilings,” he said. “We’re hoping they add the two feet to the maximum height to get a more traditional roof pitch.”

Pugliesi said the existing regulations could be driving the tear-down trend.

“To the extent you have a non-conforming property and the way only way to make any changes or additions is to do a dramatic alteration involving grading and site work, the decision becomes easy: Why not completely redo the house?”

Pugliesi warned that the proposed amendment change is not a cure-all. “It would only provide a degree of relief,” he said. “It won’t solve all the problems the grade plane created, but it will have an impact on the topography and give people the ability to have flexibility of how to use the rooms in their house.”Pugliesi said real estate agents are not proposing the amendment to further their own business, but are addressing a problem.


“And,” said Pugliesi, “It’s not only giving some relief to the home owner. It’s giving some relief to the neighbors. Especially in some of the neighborhoods with smaller lots.”