As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Greenwich was once being considered as a possible home for the United Nations in the late 1940s. This would have had an adverse effect on the environment, and would have put stress on the utility and transportation systems of the community. The Town was able to mount a successful campaign against this plan, and the United Nations was eventually located in Manhattan. Some people may not be aware that the Xerox Corporation wanted to build their World Headquarters in the 1970s not far from the proposed site for the UN!
Xerox is well-known as a major company in the Fortune 500 group. Greenwich and nearby Stamford were attractive locations for other major companies such as GTE, Champion International, Kennecott Copper and Singer. Furthermore, Westchester Airport offered easy access from anywhere in the country, less the traffic congestion of New York airports. Two other companies - AMAX (American Metals Climax, Inc) and AVCO (Aviation Corporation) - were located adjacent to the proposed site on King Street. Although Stamford welcomed new businesses, Greenwich was trying to curtail commercial development.
On February 4, 1971, the Pacific Development Corporation bought numerous tracts of land along King Street, bounded by Cliffdale Road. This surrogate company was a "dummy" corporation for Xerox. Its sole purpose was to obtain land for the Xerox site. Not surprisingly, the land was purchased for more money per acre than any other property in the area. The plan was for the corporation to transfer the acquired land to its parent - Xerox. Joan Caldwell, RTM member and member of the Northwest Greenwich Association, was the first to identify a possible problem with this development. The NGA group had been working since 1961 to curtail expansion of Westchester Airport. Now there appeared to be another threat to the residential character of the neighborhood. Joan talked to other neighborhood associations and convinced them that this corporate development was not in the best interests of the Town. It would add traffic that the local roads were ill-equipped to handle. Stress would be placed on the infrastructure as well. Furthermore, the area would have to be rezoned from residential to commercial.
Xerox hired the Charles Luckman Associates, a landscape planner, to prepare a master study of the area. They paid $250,000 for the study. Xerox also recruited AMAX to join in the venture. Surprisingly, Xerox claimed that they should be able to change the zoning since the air and noise pollution from Westchester Airport made the area untenable for a residential housing. They didn't consider how much pollution would be increased by added traffic and additional flights. Regardless, Xerox planned on submitting the study with a proposal to change the zoning. The Northwest Greenwich Association retained Brad Magill from the Badger and Fisher firm. However, it soon came to light that Magill had been Chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission, which had been involved in convincing American Can to move to northwest Greenwich.
The proposal to rezone the property and master study (known as the Luckman Report) was submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission in March 1972. Copies were also distributed to all residents in town. Xerox stuck to its argument that the airport made residential development impossible. They revised their zoning plea and resubmitted in 1973. Xerox requested that the lots be divided into 50-acres or larger since the area was not conducive to residential development.
Joan Caldwell then talked to Arden Rathkoff from Long Island. He was considered to be the foremost zoning expert in the United States, and had written a book on zoning. After he reviewed the Xerox case, he advised Joan not to compromise. The only way to win the case was to stand pat. When Magill finally met with the GNA, he advised them to compromise. The warning bells went off! The NGA decided not to use his services. Instead, a Westport lawyer by the name of Bob Davidson-partner of Davidson and Chambliss law firm-agreed to represent the Association.
At this point, the NGA lawyer, Bob Davidson, played his ace card. He reminded the P&Z Commission that they were bound by federal Environmental Protection laws. This meant an environmental impact statement and NEPA (National Environmental and Protection Act) hearings would have to be held to determine the feasability of construction in the area. It was about this time that the Convent of the Sacred Heart decided to side with the NGA since they also had a stake in the neighborhood. Xerox withdrew its application.
It was surprising that some groups actually favored the proposed development. The Greenwich Time and New York Times ran cover stories in support of Xerox. In 1972, Nutmegger magazine issued the results of a poll that indicated 3 out of 4 citizens favored the plan. (This was before major opposition was voiced.) The RTM even liked the idea - no doubt from a tax point of view.
In May of 1973, the P&Z Commission hired Fred P. Clark Associates to study the problem. The result was the Clark Report. Issued in August 1973, it recommended "radiating band land use". According to this proposal, three bands would radiate out form Westchester Airport: an office building zone, an institution and recreation zone, and a residential zone. Again, here was another unpopular plan.
The Planning & Zoning Commission finally voted on the proposed rezoning in November 1973. There was a unanimous vote (5 to 0) against the plan! Criticism was quick. Xerox said if the town didn't allow them to build, they could get worse. Some took this as a veiled threat and Xerox made a quick apology. The RTM also disagreed with the P&Z Commission's ruling. The New York Times called Greenwich "Suburbia hiding behind barriers".
Xerox decided to appeal the ruling to an Appellate Court. In August 1982 retired Supreme Court Judge William L. Tierney Jr. reversed the P&Z Commission ruling because it was..."arbitrary, illegal and unreasonable"! The Town, in turn, appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the lower court's ruling was overturned. At this point, Xerox must have given up because they let their contract with the real estate developer lapse and didn't appeal further.
In retrospect, one can certainly see that the plan was ill-conceived. Xerox never talked to the neighbors or the Northwest Greenwich Association about the plan. They didn't take the stress on the infrastructure into consideration. Another factor was that the lack of restaurants, stores and mass transit in this part of town. Xerox ignored possible development on the western side of the road, which was part of New York. The Luckman Report had been too narrow. There was also the problem of the abandoned building once Xerox left. They didn't even consider moving to the Pickwick Plaza business complex at the head of Greenwich Avenue. Most importantly, they underestimated the resolve of the neighbors who wanted to retain the rural nature of the neighborhood.
Xerox built its headquarters on Long Ridge Road in Stamford, and stayed there until October 2007 when it moved to Norwalk.
The Xerox Site Controversy, Caldwell, J: Oral History Project, Greenwich Library, 1992.