For the third time since an initial application came in last fall, the hopeful developer of the Roger Sherman Inn property has filed a new proposal for the 1.89-acre Oenoke Ridge Road property—and this one appears to include no plans preserving any of the mid-18th Century structure.
Under an application filed last week on behalf of Andrew Glazer of Norwalk-based Glazer Group, six single-family dwellings would be built on the property where a 135-seat restaurant and 17-room inn now stand.
“The intent is to construct the new homes and their facades so that the look and feel from Oenoke Ridge would remain similar to the existing,” said the application, filed Jan. 3 by Westport-based engineering firm Landtech.
“Six new single family two-story detached dwellings approximately 2,850 square feet of livable space with 2-car garages will be located throughout the balance of the site. The homes would be accessed from Oenoke Ridge by a small 16-foot-wide lane that can also access Holmewood Lane which abuts the property to the north.”
The application follows plans to construct eight units at 195 Oenoke Ridge Road, reduced to seven following objections raised by an attorney representing many neighbors and then to six prior to a public hearing last month on the Roger Sherman Inn before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Glazer’s application also has included a proposed “overlay zone” which would re-write a portion of the town’s zoning regulations in order to make room for Glazer’s plan.
At its heart is an assertion that razing the historic structure and so doing away with the commercial use in a residential zone would bring the property into more conformance with the zoning regulations than leaving it as-as—even though the property itself, at less than two acres in the 1-acre residential zone, rightly should have just one house (not six).
Some P&Z commissioners, such as Laszlo Papp, said at the December hearing that there is no question the new use is more conforming.
In a Dec. 21 letter to the town planner, commissioner Bill Redman said he saw “no reason to trade one non-conforming commercial use there for another non-conforming residential one.”
“I’d rather see a single family home go up there (or somebody ‘saves’ the restaurant, however unlikely) and I am very against seeing six units go in there,” Redman said. “I could probably handle two.”
Yet at least one builder, New Canaanite Peter Nisenson, said he himself had approached owners Joseph and Nes Jaffre with a plan that would have preserved the Roger Sherman as “a wonderful boutique hotel and the best restaurant.”
Nisenson said he lined up renowned New York-based architect Alan Greenberg to take on a renovation project had been told by the current owners that he had a handshake deal when they rather suddenly pulled out of it.
The owners also told the community that they would close the Roger Sherman on Jan. 2, but supporters appeared to have turned up in enough numbers that the restaurant will remain open for the time being—no one knows for how long.
At the hearing, commissioners debated whether the best vehicle to address Glazer’s plan would tweaking an existing section of the New Canaan Zoning Regulations (see page 144 here) that says in rather general terms that a nonconforming use may be changed by special permit to another nonconforming use “of a less objectionable character,” or else through a new “overlay zone” that would apply exclusively, as much as possible, to the Roger Sherman property.
Glazer at that same hearing appeared ready to preserve the oldest part of the Roger Sherman Inn by physically lifting it up and moving it closer to Oenoke Ridge Road, in order to “open up” the property to more sensible redevelopment.
According to Glazer, one red flag raised by neighbors of the inn was that the houses were too close to the lane to the north that would serve it (as well as Holmewood Lane).
“Part of the problem is that the existing house occupies not a center of the property but pretty close to it, thereby forcing the houses over to the lane,” Glazer said. “So what I thought was, ‘OK what we could do is—and I’ve done this before with historic houses—is lift it up and move it over and slightly up.’ ”
Glazer also said he understood but was frustrated by a sentiment of nostalgia that many had expressed for the Roger Sherman by way of objecting to his own plans.
“There are many people in this town of means and wherewithal that could have bought this place,” he said. “Unfortunately, the inn has suffered from numbers of issues, everything from multiple restaurants to other clientele and the inability—because they do not have the revenue to fix the physical plant and bring it up to the levels that are demanded by consumers today—to go to it.”
Though “I know it is hard to lose,” Glazer said, “that is unfortunately a fact of time and the inability of others who if they really felt that strongly about it, could have stepped up in this community. This is not some overnight deal. I’m feeling a little frustrated. I am feeling like, ‘OK you had all the time to do it.’ ”
Glazer requested that P&Z close the public hearing following the December meeting, but the group continued it to Jan. 31.
Yet another P&Z commissioner, Kent Turner, raised several objections to the Roger Sherman Inn application in a Dec. 21 letter to the town planner.
I have a few comments about the application relating to urban planning principals, design aesthetics and the need for better documentation from applicants.
The Roger Sherman site and floor plans, building elevations and concept perspective do not do an adequate job in depicting the development. In this case I think the lack of drawings has put the applicant at a disadvantage in communicating the impact that six houses will have on the site and the urban context. We need to require applicants to provide better drawings that communicate what is being proposed. I think the documentation provided by the Merritt application was very helpful to the commission and residents in understanding the density and micro environment within the development. We need to carefully understand all applications and determine early on if the documentation is adequate and if not direct the applicant to provide supplementary drawings, models and animations. The Weed Street application is another example of inadequate drawings. The focus of last night’s discussion was on retaining walls and danger associated with walking over it. There were no perspective drawings or sections that depicted the proposed conditions. We need better tools for the commission to evaluate the applications.
I have been trying to better understand the impact of Roger Sherman development will have in an urban context and studied the Silvermine and Maples Inn developments for clues to the final design conclusions and impacts. What needs to be realized is that Maples was a standalone development and was successful in reducing the impact of eight houses on a small site. This was done by placing the larger residence in the front and clustering the remaining houses behind the larger structure somewhat hidden from the street. This mirrors the existing Roger Sherman Inn in scale and to some degree character. What is of concern is that there is no documentation or illustration of the combined Roger Sherman and Maples developments. When they are viewed together in context the density impact will be better understood and will certainly create reactions from the neighbors most impacted by the development. (This again highlights the need for better documentation including urban design considerations to the micro design aesthetics of each unit.) The other factor to be considered is the diversity of the individual units. The Maples units vary in scale height/width and incorporate color to reinforce the diversity and creates a much more interesting character that is closer in style/density to other houses in the area.
The proposed Roger Sherman Inn development lacks this diversity and is a duplication of a singular design repeated six times. I appreciate what the developer is trying to accomplish by reducing the number of units, but in the process has lots the urban context in this planning process. The concept of renovating the existing inn to make it look more like the new units should be rethought and follow the planning concepts established at Maples. This should be done in the context of both properties viewed as one and take clues from the Maples design and layout of the new units in a way that more closely mirrors the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood. The design concepts to accomplish this include asymmetrical placement of the units, various heights and subtle color and material changes. The Merritt development used these design principles successfully in reducing the visual impact of an increase in density.