The town has 17 pending demolition applications, the most that building officials say they can remember, and is a positive sign regarding development in New Canaan, according to longtime local builders.
Nearly all of the applications are for residential projects such razing entire homes or demolishing garages, pools or barns, and more than half have come in since May, according to a review by NewCanaanite.com.
“I don’t recall ever having this many pending demo application at one time,” Chief Building Official Brian Platz said.
Geographically, the locations for the demos range from downtown out to the four-acre zone.
“They are not really concentrated to one neighborhood,” Platz said.
According to town resident Scott Hobbs, co-owner and project executive at New Canaan’s Hobbs, Inc., from the perspective of a builder, the environment right now “feels much better.”
“It seems that potential customers are much more confident,” Hobbs said. “I think also we are starting to see a shift of millenials who have children and are taking a hard at New York City to see if it still works for them or if they’re better off in the suburbs. And when you come to New Canaan there are a couple of different types of houses. Some are modern and fine to live in, some have outdated floor plans and styles and for some of those, it might just not make sense to renovate.”
New Canaan’s Arnold Karp, founder and president of Karp Associates Inc. on Cross Street, said the trend in demolition applications is positive in that it represents “reinvestment in our community.”
“What it means is that what is there has outlived its useful life, because remember, you are ripping down an asset,” Karp said. “And nobody rips something down and says, ‘You know what? I just spent all this money and always wanted to own a lot.’ It usually means that whatever was there—and it could be a low-priced house or a pretty good-priced house, but it didn’t work as far as layout and physical obsolescence.”
Of the 17 pending permit applications, nine are for entire dwellings while four are for garages, one for a former commercial bank building, one for a pool, one for a barn and one interior demo of a kitchen and guest rooms. The applications started coming in in March and nine came in last month.
Karp said the “death of many houses” is a seven-foot-six-inch ceiling height. Few people to make a capital investment in a house unless it has nine-foot ceilings, he said.
If those filing for demolition permits are “end users,” Karp said, “then my view would be that it is good news, because it means somebody is making a capital investment in New Canaan.”
So long as the applications do not represent tearing down historic structures, Karp said, it is a “reinvigoration of something that doesn’t work.” That may be 1950s-era boilers, overly small master bedrooms or what have become poorly laid out living areas.
“People live differently from 30 years ago and 50 and 75 years ago,” he said.
Karp guessed that the demolition permits foretell projects that New Canaanites have been working on “for a while.”
“They’ve decided that what was there, it doesn’t work for them, and they’re going forward,” he said.
Hobbs noted: “It is just reality that house stock does wear out.”
“So if you have a 2,500-square-foot Cape that is a 5-bedroom, it’s way too small, it doesn’t lay out right and trying to renovate it just cannot happen,” he said. There is housing that no longer works, so at a certain point it doesn’t make sense to renovate. You really want to go ahead and start over.”