Neighbor Voices ‘Deep Concern’ Over Canaan Parish Redevelopment; P&Z Hearing Opens Tuesday

Though some of those behind a proposal to redevelop an apartment complex on Lakeview Avenue say its impact on nearby properties will be minimal, one neighbor of Canaan Parish is voicing what he called “deep concern” about the project.

In a letter filed last week with Planning & Zoning, a Fitch Lane man who lives across Route 123 from Canaan Parish said that although officials with the New Canaan Housing Authority claim “that this area does not affect any residents, that is inaccurate.”

“Several homes from the Hoyt Farm neighborhood will look straight at this complex when the leaves are off the trees in the fall and winter,” Gregory Pepe said in his July 26 letter, part of the public file on an application for the redevelopment that will come before P&Z at its regular meeting Tuesday.

“Our family home will have a direct eye level view of an apartment complex which will impact housing values. Canaan Parish existed long before us and I have no issue with that fact. However, replacing it with something far, far bigger and out of character with the town is not acceptable.”

Pepe also said that the proposed redevelopment appears to be five stories, not four, and urges P&Z not to “change or compromise current rules and regulations when it comes to height or density of housing as that becomes a slippery slope for future development, whether affordable housing or not.”

Those behind the proposal at Canaan Parish are seeking to create a new zone within the New Canaan Zoning Regulations in order to make the project possible.

Named for the federally subsidized rental complex that’s stood at Lakeview and 123 for four decades, the “Canaan Parish Housing Zone” would allow the two organizations collaborating on the project to create 100 new units where 60 now stand. 

Specifically, Canaan Parish would be rebuilt with two L-shaped four-story buildings, according to an application filed this month with P&Z: one that replaces the 60 apartments now spread through 10 buildings and a second structure with 40 units built specifically to help New Canaan achieve relief in the future from a punitive state law.

According to an updated Zoning Map, the town-owned 5.2-acre parcel at 186 Lakeview Ave. (the apartment buildings themselves are owned by the company that developed and manages them, New Canaan Neighborhoods), Canaan Parish lays within the multifamily zone. (The tax assessor field card for Canaan Parish describes the zone as “905,” which town officials say indicates a “large lot apartment” area—whatever else that means, no such zone or wording exists in the regulations.)

In describing the redevelopment to members of the Town Council earlier this month, Housing Authority Chairman Scott Hobbs noted that the plan would yield more “green space” or outdoor communal areas than Canaan Parish now offers. With such a dramatic re-imagining of the site, the standards between the existing multifamily zone and proposed Canaan Parish zone stand in stark contrast to each other in many ways. Here’s a comparison:

Comparing Dimensional and Site Plan Standards

 Current Multi-Family Zone StandardsProposed 'Canaan Parish Housing Zone' Standards
Maximum number of units per building465
Maximum density4 to 6 units (for nonprofits) per acre30 units per acre
Maximum principal building height30 feet (2.5 stories)56 feet (4 stories, excluding ground-level parking)
Maximum total principal building height40 feet67 feet
Minimum front yard setback25 feet10 feet
Minimum side yard setback25 feet12 feet
Minimum rear yard setback25 feet15 feet
Minimum width of two-way driveways and exits20 feet18 feet
Minimum width of one-way driveways and exits15 feet12 feet
Minimum width of sidewalks5 feet4 feet
Sources: New Canaan Zoning Regulations and application field on behalf of New Canaan Neighborhoods Inc. and Canaan Parish Redevelopment LLC

 

Plans call for a “phased” three-year construction period, during which residents at Canaan Parish would be housed on-site in order to minimize the considerable costs of finding alternate housing while construction is underway.

According to an application filed July 2 with P&Z on behalf of New Canaan Neighborhoods and a second company created in January—Canaan Parish Redevelopment LLC, whose principals include New Canaan Neighborhoods and the Housing Authority—the “design concept for the new development focuses on a central courtyard” enclosed by the two buildings, “with openings at the corners framing views of [Mill Pond] and woods beyond.”

“The buildings’ facades are punctured with windows to take full advantage of views and natural light,” said the application, filed by attorney Timothy Hollister, partner at Shipman & Goodwin LLP, whose offices include Stamford and Greenwich locations. (The architect on the project is Amenta Emma of Stamford.)

“Sloping parapets at the roof give the buildings a friendly residential character and a stone base at the parking level connects the buildings to the ground with natural materials,” the application continued. “The apartment units will contain modern design features, such as spacious rooms and closets, full-size kitchens that include dishwashers, central HVAC, ADA-compliance, sprinkler systems and fire alarms, and multiple bathrooms that the current units do not have.”

P&Z is scheduled to take up the application (available here in the dropdown) at its 7 p.m. meeting in Town Hall.

For many, the plans at Canaan Parish came to light when Selectman Kit Devereaux voiced her own concerns—echoed by some—about the aesthetics and appropriateness of early-stage schematics.

Though the design of the proposed new buildings is not final, Hobbs told the Town Council, its general concept is driven by considerations of cost and density as well as use and aesthetics. Details such as color, finishing materials and window arrangements are open, Hobbs said, yet the town also should consider how important it is to earn relief for New Canaan from a state law designed to spur creation of affordable housing.

In towns such as New Canaan, which is never expected to see 10 percent of all housing stock qualify as “affordable” under the state’s definition, the Affordable Housing Appeals Act means that developers who include some affordable housing in new projects may ignore local zoning rules. (Locals may recall that the threat of such an “affordable housing application” cleared the way for the development at Jelliff Mill, and was cited by P&Z in its approval of Merritt Village.)

New Canaan by redeveloping the Millport Apartments with greater density earned four years of relief from the law, and the proposal at Canaan Parish is designed, in part, to help secure a second moratorium, officials have said.

Pepe in his letter noted that a new governor will take office in Hartford following this year’s election, saying the new administration “may be more friendly to towns like New Canaan than Governor [Dannel] Malloy has been on the topic of affordable housing requirements.”

3 thoughts on “Neighbor Voices ‘Deep Concern’ Over Canaan Parish Redevelopment; P&Z Hearing Opens Tuesday

  1. I think we can separate the project’s goals, which seem fine, with the proposed design, which seems more expedient than thoughtful. When the application itself, carefully crafted to present this project in the very best light possible, can only say “The buildings’ facades are punctured with windows,” maybe it’s time to find a better design that actually works with windows as an integral element — not as an afterthought that can be re-arranged willy-nilly. Right now, the facades kind of look like old IBM punch cards.

  2. The timing of this substantial project should also be questioned; why are the hearings targeted toward July, when many town residents are away on vacation, or is this just a coincidence? The demolition and re-development plans should be thoroughly discussed both as to the extensive costs, well in excess of $25 million dollars, with alternatives rigorously hashed out. With the big money behind this project and polished and professional speakers seasoned in pushing such projects through, there is not going to be proper vetting of this plan with only several weeks from the initial presentation to a final aggressive one before planning and zoning.

  3. Is this really what we want for the gateway to New Canaan? The plans that have been shown to tenants clearly show for another future expansion, please come voice you opinion this evening, at town hall.

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