We commend the New Canaan Planning & Zoning Commission for its responsiveness, diligence and care in updating the rules that say what types of businesses can occupy street-level commercial space in the downtown. More than one year in the making and with contributions from individuals within and outside the appointed body, P&Z’s work culminated in two changes recently that commercial property owners are hailing as proactive and timely. First, following several months of discussions, P&Z voted unanimously in April to update the New Canaan Zoning Regulations so that service businesses in the “Retail A” zone—the very heart of the downtown, including Elm and Main Streets—may occupy first-floor spaces so long as there’s a retail component facing the street. The idea for the text change came to the Commission because P&Z actively sought ways it could help the downtown. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy advised a P&Z committee led by Secretary Jean Grzelecki, and the Zoning Regulations amendment went into effect in May.
Municipal officials last week unanimously approved changes to the New Canaan Zoning Regulations that are designed to help commercial property owners, downtown retailers and the wider community.
The Planning & Zoning Commission voted 9-0 in favor of text changes to the regulations that re-establish first floor office use in the “Business A” zone with site plan review. The Business A zone includes nearly all of the two-way stretch of Elm Street in New Canaan, parts of Grove Street, all of Pine Street and commercial lots on both sides of Cherry Street as it curls past Cross Street, almost to Locust Avenue (see map here). As local land use attorney David Rucci of New Canaan-based Lampert, Toohey & Rucci LLC said in applying to the Commission for the text changes (on behalf of the the new owners of the former Beval Saddlery building on Pine Street), though the Business A zone was created in 1985—at a time when the owner of the Lumberyard site was considering building an office park—more than half of it serves first-floor general office use on a legally nonconforming basis. Re-establishing first-floor office use will help the zone become more viable for both the owners of buildings, some of which are vacant, and the town, he said. “The office use itself is actually already occurring,” Rucci said at the Commission’s regular meeting, held Nov.
Though a conspicuous South Avenue property has seen significant improvements since a local doctor acquired it for his medical practice, town officials this week voiced criticism for a sign proposed for its front yard.
New England Healthcare LLC, owned by family medicine practitioner and longtime New Canaan resident Dr. David Dayya has done a “really nice job” with the doctor’s offices at South Avenue and Oak Street and “super” work in addressing what had been traffic problems under past occupants of the two-story building there, Planning & Zoning Commissioner Bill Redman said Tuesday night. Yet an approximately seven-foot-high, cedar post sign proposed for the front yard 194 South Ave. is “a really ugly sign,” Redman said. “It’s huge,” he said during P&Z’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “I have been up and down South Avenue.
After reviewing plans for a major building project on the edge of downtown New Canaan, planning officials say, a widely criticized faux stone retaining wall will not be completely screened, and therefore must be addressed in some other way. The Merritt Village retaining wall that is materializing along Park Street is “aesthetically underwhelming and not in keeping with the spirit of your description of the project and the drawings that you originally presented as part of your application,” Planning & Zoning Chairman John Goodwin said in a Nov. 20 letter to the project’s developer, Arnold Karp.
Sent on behalf of the entire Commission, the letter says that the faux stone finish on the retaining walls were not referenced during public hearings on the Merritt Village project and that the structures require “at a minimum, fieldstone veneer.”
“You are certainly correct that you are in the early stages of your project and you noted that ultimately these structures would be ‘hidden’ by landscaping,” the letter said. “After reviewing the plans on record and considering the extent of the structures, we are not convinced the faux look will be completely screened. We believe the appropriate solution would be the application of a 4-inch thick fieldstone veneer directly to the face of the existing retaining walls.
Saying they’re disappointed that the materials they thought a local builder would be using for a retaining wall are not what has materialized along Park Street, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night asked the developer of Merritt Village whether similar “faux-looking” structures could be expected.
Weeks after addressing the matter of the retaining wall with New Canaan’s legislative body, Arnold Karp of Karp Associates came before P&Z to during the appointed group’s regular meeting.
According to Karp, a second retaining wall above and behind the one that’s caused so much fuss is to be built, and there’s also one that curves around where motorists will enter Merritt Village from Park Street.
Even so, Karp said, the retaining walls will be capped and partially hidden by plantings, and the buildings themselves—which feature natural stone and cedar shingles—will be the focal point for passersby. “I have to get a little more of the project on down the line before I have 18,000 architects who live in town telling me how it is going to look,” Karp told the Commission during its meeting, held at Town Hall.
As P&Z itself includes architects Laszlo Papp, Dan Radman and Kent Turner, Karp added, “I wasn’t counting anybody on the commission in the 18,000,” drawing laughter from the room. Radman said, “But it’s only these three that you have to worry about.”
Merritt Village, a 110-unit apartment and condo complex approved by P&Z two years ago, following several months of hearings and a record-high number of conditions, is still about 18 months away from completion.
Even so, Chairman John Goodman said that P&Z has received “a fair amount of feedback from the community” regarding the retaining wall, and therefore asked Karp and Karp Associates COO Paul Stone to address the matter.
Karp said he takes P&Z’s comments to heart.
“It’s not like I’m going to build this and disappear,” Karp said. “I’m here for the duration.”
Speaking of the retaining wall in its current state, he added: “We are looking at something that against this backdrop is very noticeable. They are not finished.