GREENWICH, Conn. - You probably wouldn’t guess by looking at the carefully maintained Edwards Campus of the Brunswick School on King Street, but the location was the center of a long-running debate about the appropriate use of land and the preservation of the character of Greenwich in the face of changing times.
The 1960s and 1970s were periods of rapid growth of commercial office space in Greenwich, particularly in the downtown area. Between 1965 and 1970 the amount of office space in Greenwich surged from one million to more than two million square feet. The town’s name recognition and proximity to transportation corridors made it highly attractive to businesses.
Many companies were building and relocating to large office campuses in the suburbs - in part to escape deteriorating conditions in urban areas they had long called home. Some communities welcomed new corporate neighbors, particularly because of the added tax revenues they would provide. Others, such as Greenwich, had a vocal portion of its citizenry who believed that large commercial office developments would irrevocably degrade the residential character of their community.
Xerox acquired five adjacent parcels (totaling 104 acres) on the west side of King Street in northwest Greenwich in 1970, intending to relocate its top management from Rochester, New York to a new global headquarters constructed on the site. One of the attractions for Xerox was the fact that Westchester County Airport was adjacent to the property, just over the border in New York. The company maintained five airplanes that it used to shuttle its executives among its different facilities.
Noise generated by airplanes arriving and departing had curtailed high-end residential development anticipated for a section zoned for four-acre residential plots. In fact the problem posed by noise contributed to a suggestion in a 1957 Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission report that offices and research facilities were most suitable for the area.
At the time of its purchase, Xerox leadership was aware that the area would need to be rezoned in order for it to proceed with its development plans. However, they believed that the company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen, the inability to successfully develop residential properties in the area and the added tax revenue they would provide (anticipated at about $400,000 per year) all would encourage the community to support its vision. Xerox even argued that the town would not need to make extensive infrastructure improvements because their new facility would get water from its own wells and handle the sewage it generated. The company invested in a public relations campaign to make Greenwich residents aware of the anticipated benefits.
A well-organized and vocal group of community associations and groups soon joined forces and began to push back against Xerox. These and other opponents of additional corporate office facilities cited the potential for diminished property values, increased traffic (both in the air and on the road) and the degradation of quality of life as powerful reasons to halt development.
Despite additional public relations efforts and repeated attempts to craft an acceptable petition for zoning changes, opponents of the Xerox headquarters in Greenwich eventually prevailed when the request for the necessary zoning changes was denied, and the company eventually moved to Stamford instead. The controversy surrounding use of its land off of King Street continued to stymie efforts by Xerox to sell the property for years to come.
Archives at the Greenwich Historical Society has information relating to Xerox’s original proposed development including some samples of the public relations material circulated by Xerox. The archives are open to the public on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.
Christopher Shields is the archivist at the Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT 06807.