Ben Bilus

Recent Articles

ZBA Grants Variance for Improvements at Brinkerhoff Avenue Home

The Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved a variance paving the way for improvements to a single-family home located at 7 Brinkerhoff Ave. Mario Lopez of ML Builders, on behalf of homeowner Ed Ku, presented plans for improvements to the circa-1918 home during the ZBA’s most recent meeting on Nov. 6. Ku plans to change the pitch of the home’s roof from 7 feet to 14 feet and add a 56 sq. ft. Continue Reading →

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Committee Mulls Whether Town Should Continue As Owner of Playhouse

Does it make sense for the town to continue to own the New Canaan Playhouse building downtown, especially considering that it needs more than $2 million in repairs? That’s a topic that members of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee broached during their most recent meeting at Town Hall. The town acquired the building at 89 Elm St.—which also includes street-level retail space and second-floor offices—in August 2007 for about $2.2 million. However, officials have been mulling in recent years whether it makes sense for the town to continue to lease the facility to BowTie Cinemas and have it operate as a private movie theater, considering the major capital investment needed to make it safe, structurally sound and ADA-compliant. The figure three years ago was pegged at $2.1 million (major line items at the 1923 building include partial roof and brick exterior replacement, elevator and ADA-compliant wheelchair access, new gutters and drainage system and new layout for its sprinkler system). Continue Reading →

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Plan to Build Two-Family Home on East Avenue Stalls at ZBA

An application for a variance that would allow a two-family residence on East Avenue to replace a 1900-built single family home there was continued Monday night after town officials expressed concerns over the proposed driveway and pedestrian access way included in the project. On its face, property owner William Panella’s request for a variance for 72 East Ave. is straightforward: The applicant is requesting relief from the residential Zone B requirement for a minimum 100 feet of street frontage, as the property only allows for about 93 feet of frontage, and to allow the driveway from East Avenue to connect with another driveway and parking lot for an adjacent commercial property on Vitti Street. Panella plans to tear down the existing 1,400-square-foot home, where his late mother Mary had lived, as well as the detached garage in the rear and construct a new, residential style, two-family dwelling measuring about 4,000 square feet. Before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday, attorney David Rucci of Lampert Williams & Toohey LLC explained that he is, in fact, representing two clients on the project, William Panella, son of the late Mary Panella, whose property is the subject of the application, and Panella’s development partner, Art Collins, who is developing an adjacent property on Vitti Street, directly behind the property on East Avenue and in the town’s Business B zone (see map below). Continue Reading →

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Owner of Historic Park Street Home Seeks Increased Flexibility in Home Office Use

The owner of a prominent Park Street house that’s lingered on the market for two years is seeking more flexibility from town officials than the New Canaan Zoning Regulations normally allow, regarding his home office. Richard Bergmann, an architect who since 1973 has owned the stately and well-preserved Greek revival at 63 Park St.—a house located in New Canaan’s Historic District that had been owned by Maxwell Perkins, masterful Scribners editor of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe—on Monday night asked zoning officials for permission to allow the home’s owner to not live in the house while still using its first floor as an office. Specifically, he’s seeking a variance to a section of the zoning regulations (see page 47 here) that allows for a home-based business by permit so long as the person working there also uses the same dwelling as his or her primary residence, among other requirements. One of those requirements is that no more than one nonresident of the house can be employed on the premises—Bergmann in 1985 obtained a variance that allowed him to employ two people in addition to himself at the 1837-built Park Street home. In making his statement of hardship, which Bergmann reviewed before the Zoning Board of Appeals at its regular meeting Monday night, the homeowner noted that the house is adjacent to the town’s business district and that a similarly situated residence already has the allowances that he’s seeking. Continue Reading →

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Town Officials Seek Details on Nature Center’s Finances, Use of Buildings

[Editor’s Note: After hearing concerns from someTown Building Evaluation and Use Committee members that their comments had been taken out of context, we added a full and unedited audio file from this portion of the public meeting to the top of this article.]

With an eye on prioritizing capital maintenance and spending, officials say they’re seeking detailed information from the New Canaan Nature Center about how the organization’s various programs use the town-owned buildings that form its campus. The Nature Center uses one set of books for its entire business–including financially successful enterprises such as camp and a popular nursery school—though it isn’t clear just now whether capital investments earmarked for the Oenoke Ridge Road campus are commensurate with those revenue-drivers, according to members of a committee that’s studying town-owned buildings throughout New Canaan. “What we are trying to do is find out whether there is an opportunity for the town to use resources better, and then make informed decisions about where we should do that,” Amy Murphy Carroll, co-chair of the Town Building Evaluation and Use Committee, said at the group’s most recent meeting. “So for instance, the gift shop—there is a revenue line for that of X amount—it’s really pretty minimal and there is lot of space for the gift shop,” Carroll said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. Appointed in February, the committee’s members also include Penny Young (co-chair), Ben Bilus (secretary), Neil Budnick, Bill Holmes, Christa Kenin and Martin Skrelunas. Continue Reading →

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