Edit ModuleShow Tags

Our Changing Streetscapes

(page 1 of 2)

You may not recognize Anthony Amicucci and Jay Ross by sight, but if you’ve driven downtown lately, you know their work.

For the last three years, the two men and other like-minded developers have been remaking once-sleepy Milbank Avenue, its environs and the Fourth Ward across the Post Road into the hottest real estate market in a town known for hot real estate. By building high-end, jewel-box condominiums around Greenwich Avenue, then marketing them aggressively, often to backcountry empty nesters looking to downsize while staying local, they have been able to fetch sale prices between $2 million and $4 million a unit, far in excess of what the market for such small-lot dwellings drew a few years before. “If there weren’t a demand for the product, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Amicucci explains.

Yet, not everyone in town appreciates their work. For every pricey condo that goes up, something must come down. Too often, many argue, it is a piece of classic Greenwich, say a stately Victorian on Milbank Avenue with an expansive lawn, now replaced by an imposing brick wallface with nary a front entrance in sight. The new buildings are bigger, too, often squeezing in every inch of floor area that town zoning allows.

“You had these great old houses with front porches that were very inviting, that harkened back to an era when all the merchants on Greenwich Avenue lived there,” notes Christopher Holbrook, who works on preservation issues with the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich and sees a growing development problem in Greenwich: oversize buildings built right into the street.

Streetscape has become a buzzword for Holbrook and others who lament both the rapidity and scale of new development — not just the downtown projects of Amicucci and Ross but also work all over Greenwich, from the McMansions of the backcountry to the sideways-positioned duplexes of Chickahominy to the postage-stamp manors popping up around Old Greenwich.

Amicucci and Ross concede no aesthetic ground to their critics. What they are doing, they say, is not destroying streetscapes but rather creating better ones. “The old stock of homes built eighty, a hundred years ago, they were probably built for more of a blue-collar type of person,” Ross says. “There was not as much attention paid to architectural detail. I’m not saying there aren’t old houses that are interesting. But up to this point, the houses we have taken down really have had no interest, other than one single-family home on Connecticut Avenue, which we duplicated [as a two-unit condominium] because we loved the design so much.”

Adds Amicucci, speaking of the downtown area: “I don’t see anything that was taken down that wasn’t replaced with something that wasn’t an improvement.”

It’s an unarguable point from a cash perspective, and perhaps other perspectives, too. Paul Pugliese, longtime chairman of the town’s Architectural Review Committee, notes some impressive designs since the passion for new-construction housing began in earnest some four years ago. “The built environment is being built, if nothing else, to a very high quality, regardless of what people think of the size of the homes,” Pugliese says. “They are being built with high-quality materials, very detailed, something you don’t see where people are combining the largest interior space with the least cost.”

In Greenwich, the equation seems rather to combine the largest interior space with the greatest cost. Amicucci and Ross’s newest project is a single-family house, not a condo, on Church Street in the Fourth Ward going up next to the Town & Country apartment building. Modeled on a tony townhouse one might find on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, its 5,500 square feet of living space is decked out with such accoutrements as heated floors and a home theater. Ross calls it “the next generation” in upscale residential downtown living and projects a selling price between $4.5 million and $5 million, maybe more. Amicucci concedes people may think them crazy for such a scheme, but the same was true when he and another team constructed Arbor Rose on East Elm Street, perhaps the most mind-bending condominium project in its day for the price, and quite successful.

Tony Bellantoni has been building houses in Greenwich for twenty-five years, and of late has been taking his work in the Greenwich backcountry to another level, as well. “Fifteen years ago, you would build a regular Colonial, not fancy work like today, especially on the inside,” he notes. “Now you have crown moldings, twelve to fourteen inches wide, whereas before it was like a little strip. Or take tumbled marble: You never used that like you do now. You had shiny marble then.”

Doug Stevens, president of the realty firm Greenwich Fine Properties, notes an evolution in housing stock commensurate with a real estate market where the total dollar amount of all homes sold rose from $116 million in 1976 to $2.14 billion last year. “First, we need to understand and accept that this phenomenon is at least in part a result of the incredible desirability of living in Greenwich,” he says. “There are two fundamental components of real estate appraisal, physical obsolescence and functional obsolescence. The houses of the 1950s and 1960s — ranches, split-levels, those types of homes — in most cases simply don’t make the grade on either value scale. It’s much like natural selection in the real estate world.”

Just as natural selection eventually caught up to the dodo and the trilobite, some of Greenwich’s older houses have disappeared in the wake of this new housing boom. According to Susan Richardson, chairman of the town Historic District Commission, seventy-five houses over sixty years old were torn down in 2005, three times the number five years before.

“People say all the time: ‘You don’t like this house being knocked down? You take it. You move it somewhere,’ ” notes Richardson. “They don’t understand that where a house is built has historic importance. The streetscape has importance more than the individual house.”

Franklin Bloomer Jr., chairman of the Representative Town Meeting’s Land Use Committee, is concerned about the changing streetscape around his own neighborhood in Old Greenwich and other parts of town. “Greenwich is being remade,” he says. “There is no hesitation by builders to tear down whatever stands in the way of a house that maxes out the size they are permitted to put on that piece of land. Some very distinctive houses that make Greenwich the quality type of place it is are being destroyed.”

Bloomer calls the newer houses “a caricature of the New York Times image” of Greenwich — ritzy, upscale, big-money. “It [Greenwich] was not a glitzy place, but it’s becoming that, with what builders call in unguarded moments ‘trophy houses,’ without architectural distinction.”

In western Greenwich, too, residents see cause for alarm. Joseph Pecora, a Chickahominy resident who, as Pecora Brothers, Inc. with his brother Sylvester, is developing several area properties, notes the loss of many older homes there, sometimes for the best, too often not. “People have been tearing down houses, putting boxes up, not necessarily caring, just trying to max out the FAR [floor-area ratio, as prescribed by town zoning] and the market value,” he says. “The property doesn’t necessarily warrant the size or the design.”

Most often, he says, it happens when an old, single-family house in an R-6 zone, which permits two-family dwellings, is torn down and replaced with a larger structure designed to accommodate a duplex. In order to get the most out of the lot, the houses are built sideways, the front turned away from the street and facing along the inside property line. “You see examples in Pemberwick, Byram and Chickahominy,” Pecora says. “And some guys are doing a nice job. But the streetscape is totally destroyed.”

Town Planner Diane Fox identifies the Milbank area and the Fourth Ward as areas where streetscapes are being altered most critically, but agrees there are concerns about similar changes all over town. Last May, subdivision rules were altered, ending a free-cut provision that condominium developers had used to add extra units to their downtown projects, but she says there is little else the town can do.

“People want bigger buildings, and that’s what’s being built,” says Fox. “Some people have said we should have contextual zoning, block-by-block, according to the look of each streetscape, but that’s an uneven handling of zoning. There are issues from a legal standpoint when you talk about contextual zoning. When you allow one block to have one setback, you throw everything up for grabs.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module


Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Greenwich Agenda

  • Parties at the JCC Center

     @ Stamford JCC

    A place to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Be a guest at your own party! The JCC offers a wonderful space for you and your guests to...

  • Flinn Gallery Art Opening

     @ Flinn Gallery 2nd floor

    "IN FOCUS" OPENING RECEPTION -  Thursday October 30, 2014 6-8pm. "IN FOCUS"features seven artists' visions in...

  • Antarctica: Photographs by Diane Tuft

     @ Bruce Museum

    October 28, 2014 - February 1, 2015 Selections from Gondwana, Images of an Ancient Land Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, CT...

  • Exhibition: Northern Baroque Splendor

     @ Bruce Museum

    Northern Baroque Splendor. The HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION from: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna September 20, 2014 - April 12, 2015...

  • Exhibition: Native American Pottery from the Bruce Museum Collection

     @ Bruce Museum

      Generously underwritten by Gabelli Funds and The Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund Over the years, the Bruce Museum has...

  • The Best of 2014: Cecile Chong, David, Ruth Hiller, David Licata, Loanne Mattera, Jill Parisi, Kristen Thiele

     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY I Dates: November 8 – December 22, 2014     Opening Reception: November 8, 6:30 – 8:00 PM Public Invited THE BEST OF 2014:  Cecile...

  • 6th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival & Santa’s Workshop


    Santa and his LIVE reindeer - Dancer, Dasher, Prancer and Blitzen, are coming back to town for the 6th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival &...


     @ Imagine Candy

    Imagine Candy located in Scarsdale Village- Winner of 2014 Best West of Westchester by Westchester Magazine- holds a Belgian Chocolate and Candy...

  • Christmas Tree and Wreath Sale for Charity

     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

    O, Christmas Tree; O Christmas Tree Buy your tree and help those in need this Christmas! It’s time for the annual Christmas Tree and...

  • "Paper & Stone" an exhibition by Ellen Gordon & Sary Backer at the Loft Artists Gallery

     @ Loft Artists Gallery

    Paper and Stone” An exhibition by Sary Backer & Ellen Gordon November 1 - November 30th Artists’ reception: November 8th from 4 – 6 PM...

  • Family Gallery Tours

     @ Bruce Museum

    Designed for children ages 6-10 and their families, these tours will provide an interactive, discussion-based tour of the museum’s current...

  • Tuesday Toddler Tours

     @ Bruce Museum

    Children ages 3-5 and their adult caregivers are encouraged to come explore the Museum’s collections and exhibitions through picture books...

  • Greenwich Gives

     @ Greenwich Avenue

    Looking for a fun way to complete your holiday shopping and give back to your community?    On December 2, 2014, local non-profits...

  • Breast Cancer Alliance Holiday Gift Boutique

     @ Greenwich Country Club

    More than 40 skilled artisans, designers, and purveyors of finely crafted goods and provisions will showcase their wares at the Breast Cancer...

  • Holiday WOW At Your Front Door!

     @ Garden Education Center of Greenwich

    Beautify your entrance way with luscious holiday evergreens, berries, pinecones and more, sure to last throughout the dreary winter...

  • Exercise as Treatment for Chronic Pain

     @ Noble Conference Room Greenwich Hospital

    Presented by Greenwich Hospital and Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists Exercise as Treatment for Chronic Pain Tuesday, 12/2/14 at...

  • Israeli Film Series | Bethlehem

     @ Stamford JCC

    Join us throughout the year for award-winning films direct from Israel that will show you Israel through the lens of a movie camera. Following each...

  • Holiday Della Robbia Wreath

     @ Garden Education Center of Greenwich

    Create a lavishly decorated live wreath for your home this holiday season with Maureen FitzPatrick. Using a variety of real...

  • Picture This with Authors Lisa Barr & Gabrielle Selz

     @ The Drawing Room

    Authors Lisa Barr & Gabrielle Selz Bring Their Stories of Passion, Chaos & Intrigue from the World of Modern Art to Greenwich...

  • Holiday Tea

     @ Garden Education Center of Greenwich

    Back by popular demand!  An elegant multigenerational holiday tea party featuring a delightful afternoon tea, delicacies and a gift...

Show More...
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular Articles

  1. Greenwich Hospital Venezia Gala
    Greenwich Country Club
  2. BCA Annual Luncheon + Fashion Show
    Hyatt Regency Greenwich
  3. Watch Your Back, Lulu
    YOGASMOGA’s got a new active wear line that’s coming in hot
  4. Greenwich Happy Hours
    6 places to go in Greenwich for Happy Hour
  5. Greenwich Restaurant Week Opening Night Kick-off Party
    Miller Motorcars