55-57 Greens Farms Road.
55-57 Greens Farms Road

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The two-building office complex at 55-57 Greens Farms Road can now include medical space after the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday removed restrictions put in place some 45 years ago.

Since the pandemic, the demand for office space has plummeted, and with Americans aging, the need for medical space has increased.

The zoners, after continuation of a public hearing, on Monday night passed a text amendment, map amendment, special permit and site plan that allow the 62,918-square-foot facility to switch from office to medical use.

One of the votes removed a prohibition of medical use for the property imposed by a 1978 stipulated settlement, which followed a P&Z denial and lawsuit. Another allowed a valet parking plan rather than more parking spaces. The text amendment tweaked the existing zoning of the property. The last passed the site plan.

No vote was unanimous, and commission members and the public voiced support and concerns.

Marisa Manley, who lives nearby and has a background in architecture and the law, had a list of concerns. She said the applicant’s references to a low demand for parking are “irrelevant.”

“The reason they’re switching to medical office uses is because whatever the lease-out is, there’s nobody in the building,” Manley said. “So, of course the parking lot is empty.”

“I’ve lived next to this for 30 years, I can tell you that most days before COVID, the parking lot was full,” she said.

Gloria Gouveia, a land-use consultant not affiliated with the project, told the commission zones like the one in question are a way for the town to improve the tax base.

John Bolton.
John Bolton

“The town does not benefit from empty office space,” she said. “It is incumbent upon us to look at empty office space as a problem, and as an expensive problem, and to accommodate changes that would ameliorate that situation.”

“It’s a good project,” said Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1 and chair of its Planning and Zoning Committee. “It’s a good idea to allow for medical because there are changing parts of our society that need to be addressed in terms of having medical available to them.”

“But there are consequences,” he said. “Make sure you lock down exactly what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. And I think you should be looking at traffic.”

Patrizia Zucaro, who in the past has not been a fan of text amendments, abstained from all the votes except for the last, the site plan, for which she was a yes.

Member John Bolton was the sole nay in all four votes, though he noted it was not because of the presentation by Rick Costantini of FLB. He said Constantini was candid.

Bolton said traffic, along Greens Farms Road, already is a problem, and townwide as well.

“What concerns me is, we approve things and we take things up and we do it in a very piecemeal kind of way sometimes, and sometimes I think we forget about what was approved a year ago or two years ago that’s still online or coming,” Bolton said.

‘We really need to rethink what we want to be as a town here. It’s getting to be a little much. It’s hodgepodge, and we don’t do well there.’
P&Z MEmber John Bolton

“And that road is a nightmare traffic-wise,” he said of Greens Farms Road. “It does get backed up to the connector and in other ways almost back up to the bridge … and that’s without a whole lot going on right now so.”

Factors he mentioned included Interstate 95 shutdowns, the Hamlet at Saugatuck project and housing development at Hiawatha Lane Extension.

“We need to ask ourselves, can our infrastructure support this?” Bolton said. “We’re putting exponential weight on our infrastructure right now. I don’t think it can handle much more. And it’s also a quality-of-life issue. It really is …

“We really need to rethink what we want to be as a town here,” he said. “It’s getting to be a little much. It’s hodgepodge, and we don’t do well there.”

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.