I first looked at purchasing the Roger Sherman property over 5 years ago while I was building the Maples project next door. Like the Maple Inn the Roger Sherman, though more active in use, was struggling to maintain a business and a physical plant that needed renovation badly in order to keep up with the change in dining habits that have taken place in New Canaan over the last few years. The current owners did not nor do they now have the resources to do what we are doing over at the Silvermine Tavern property which is completely renovate and bring up to the standards that Inn users want and will pay for today.
Over these past four years five different deals came and went from some who wanted to either run the restaurant/Inn or develop the property as a multi family project. The Inn buyers turned out to be either complete frauds or tire kickers and the developers wanted to put in anywhere from 14 to 24 units. Further, a restrictive easement on the back third of the property drove off another serious developer who could not balance the price with the use availability.
I maintained contact with the owners over the years and when the last deal fell through they contacted me. We negotiated a price and I prepared a rough plan to show the Zoning director and a couple of the commissioners in an informal meeting.
They were favorable towards the plan, other than asking for a front house to be removed, but happy to not have to look at another large unsightly project that they had seen from others developers.
The owners of the property, who had paid over $3,000,000 and then did renovations, needed a certain number to be able to pay off debts and retire with some funds. Though the price was high I was able to factor it into our planning given that we initially were talking about seven houses.
Our zoning process has been anything but smooth. Our first meeting had the Corporation Counsel raising his concern about the regulation, (7.1) which we were using for this project as well as the one that we used for the Maples. The question was simple. Is the proposed use “less objectionable” than the current one.
It is a very general regulation that gives the commission a wide array of criteria to determine. The Corporation Counsel, like us, felt that there would need to be some criteria provided that would help the commission determine whether the new use was less objectionable than the current use. What ensued was months of back and forth between the commission, the corporation counsel and ourselves to the point where we are actually back to step one. 7.1
The commission will vote this month on the 6-house design and I presume that they will ask themselves, is the proposed use less objectionable than the current one. Based on the last meeting it seems that some members may feel that the density of six (6) houses is too large and therefore potentially not less objectionable than the current use. In the meantime I have looked at the plan to determine if we could do less units and still be a viable project.
We have determined that we could do four (4) houses and though it would be clearly less profitable it could work. The high demand for these houses alleviates the fear of not selling and even in this market it is a calculated risk we are willing to take.
For those who continue to wish for the Roger Sherman to stay alive I think they have to realize that over the last four years that it has been available to purchase, no one, including some more vocal about their intentions, has put forth a viable plan to purchase the inn and run it. The owners are tired and have hung in with us longer that they intended as the time for the Zoning process has extended far longer than it should have even if for legitimate concerns by both the P&Z and neighbors.
Those who have shown up at the hearings and spoke about the Inn, when asked if they would participate in any purchase, shake their heads and say no that’s not for them.
The reality is that the cost of the property and the cost of proper renovation put this in a financially untenable situation. The current owners did not then nor do they now have the resources to do what we are doing over at the Silvermine Tavern property.
So we come back to the 7.1 regulation, which is clear in the intent that the commission should try and reduce non-conformities where they can. That does not mean that they necessarily go to the underlying zone but simply get it reduced in a less objectionable manner. I believe that we are doing that and will, if turned down by the commission, appeal that decision to the courts.
I have offered this reduction so that we can try and get this project approved, understanding that this will not meet everyone’s approval but it clearly meets the approval of the abutting neighbors to the south, southeast, west and north. That should matter to the commission as they deliberate.