John Engel

Recent Articles

‘It’s a Great Town We Live In’: Councilmen Praise Public-Private Partnerships in Funding Waveny Trails, Platform Tennis Court [UPDATED]

Citizens’ generosity helped push New Canaan’s legislative body last week to approve taxpayer funding of projects that will enhance Waveny for two sets of park users. Members of the Town Council in approving bond issuances of $50,000 and $70,000, respectively, to improve trails at the popular park and to create a fifth platform tennis court—an additional requested for several years—cited donations from two private groups as reasons to move forward. Specifically, the Waveny Park Conservancy is matching dollar-for-dollar the town’s $50,000 investment in improving trails starting with those that run behind “the cornfields” (soon to become ‘Waveny Meadows’), and platform tennis users are contributing $35,000 upfront toward a fifth court. “Those two projects are just a great example of how lucky we are to have the public and private combination of funds because without the private part of this, we would not be able to get this done,” Town Councilman Steve Karl said at the group’s regular meeting, held May 16 at Town Hall. “With the trails, we are basically doubling the amount of money we are spending there, and in the case of the platform tennis court, it’s another $35,000 in. Continue Reading →

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Non-Permitted Demolitions: Town Officials Seek To Stiffen Penalty for Negligent Homeowners

Members of New Canaan’s legislative body said Wednesday night that they’ve been asked to bolster what some see as overly lenient penalties for property owners who demolish their homes without first obtaining proper permits. Citing a widely discussed case on White Oak Shade Road, where the owners of a pre-American Revolutionary War era home demolished a second floor without a permit, members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee said during their regular meeting that some residents have approached them about creating stiffer fines here in town. As it stands, those who demo a structure without a permit face only a maximum $500 fine and those funds go to the state—that’s “a slap on the pinky,” according to Councilman Steve Karl, committee co-chair. “That’s basically what you are getting,“ Karl said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. Under Chapter 541 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the State Demolition Code is administered by the local building official and a permit is needed to “demolish any building, structure or part thereof.” Anyone who violates the provisions of the Demolition Code “shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than one year or both,” under state law. Continue Reading →

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First Selectman Breaks 6-6 Tie To Advance Demolition of ‘Mead Park Brick Barn’

Though some argued that it makes little sense to rush an irretrievable decision when a viable alternative has emerged, members of New Canaan’s legislative body and the first selectman on Wednesday pushed forward the demolition of a widely discussed brick structure on Richmond Hill Road. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan broke a 6-6 tie on the Town Council to preserve $65,000, as part of a larger proposed bonding package, for razing the “Mead Park Brick Barn” or “Richmond Hill Garage.”

New Canaan Baseball has said it’s interested in using the 1901-built, two-story structure, opposite the bottom of Grove Street, for meetings and storage. Yet some on the Council questioned the organization’s ability to make the structure usable and maintain it. “I am totally in favor of giving [New Canaan Baseball] a reasonable amount of time, but I think the building should be taken down unless there is a credible plan,” Moynihan told members of the Town Council as he cast a vote in favor of preserving the money for demolition. It wasn’t immediately clear what are the criteria for “a credible plan,” or how long “a reasonable amount of time” is, though Councilmen noted that a 90-day delay is likely from the time the town applies for the demolition permit. Continue Reading →

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New Canaan Baseball Proposes Long-Term Use of ‘Mead Park Brick Barn’

After the idea first surfaced at last month’s Forum on Public Buildings, the nonprofit organization that runs youth baseball in New Canaan on Thursday formally proposed using a disused town-owned brick structure on Richmond Hill Road for storage and meetings. New Canaan Baseball officials in a May 10 letter to the selectmen and Town Council said the building known as the “Brick Barn” or “Richmond Hill Garage” would be more suitable for storage than a town-owned shed at Waveny and could offer more uses. “New Canaan Baseball would like to formally express our interest in the above property,” NCBB Co-Presidents Rob Moore and Brian Rogers said in the letter, obtained by NewCanaanite.com. “We need to fully understand the financial impact and commitment of inhabiting the space but we are willing to explore the next steps.”

“We recognize that the Barn needs repairs and upgrading, and have seen preliminary estimates,” the letter said. “The main room on the ground floor provides us some raw space we could use with some modifications. Continue Reading →

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How Involved Should Residents Be in Deciding the Future of Public Buildings?

Though their input is valuable, New Canaan taxpayers ultimately should rely on their elected and appointed representatives to make decisions regarding the future of town-owned buildings rather than put such questions to a public referendum, officials say. Structures such as Gores Pavilion, Vine Cottage and Irwin House “don’t exist in a vacuum” and their capital needs are part of “a very fluid process,” Board of Finance member and Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee co-chair Amy Murphy Carroll said during the recent Forum on Public Buildings. Responding to a suggestion that putting key decisions on public buildings to a ballot so that residents can determine “what they do with their tax dollars,” Murphy Carroll questioned “how that it would be all that productive to do that.”

“You elected the people on the Town Council, right?” she said during the April 26 forum, held at Town hall. “You elected your representatives.”

While Murphy Carroll and her fellow panelists—First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Town Council Chairman John Engel, and Town Council members Cristina A. Ross and Penny Young, who also served as committee co-chair—agreed that input from the community is greatly encouraged and appreciated, she and others stressed that residents should also trust them to make the best decisions for the town. Young said that there need to be more public forums allowing residents to express their opinions about how the buildings should be used. Continue Reading →

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