P&Z: Board of Ed Failed To Properly Notice Neighbors of ‘Alternative High School’ Plan; Vote Postponed To October

Though the “alternative high school” is up and running in downtown New Canaan, town officials last week were prevented from approving a site plan that would formally allow it because of the district’s failure to properly notify neighboring property owners. The Planning & Zoning Commission must “give the public the opportunity next month to address” the district’s location of the alternative high school in 800 square feet of space on the second floor of the same building that New Canaan Public Schools administrators occupy on the corner of Forest Street and Locust Avenue, according to P&Z Chairman John Goodwin. “This Commission’s responsibility is for use and land use and so, whether you like it or not, we are part of the checks and balances process of this town,” Goodwin told Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi at the Commission’s regular meeting, held Sept. 25 at Town Hall. 

Turning to his fellow commissioners, he added: “We cannot vote on this tonight, since notices did not go out in time. Normally we would not have opened the application, given the timing issues.”

Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, properties in the Retail B zone may be used as a “municipal facility,” including a school, with site plan approval by P&Z.

P&Z Approves ‘White Buffalo’ Hot-Dog-and-Brats Restaurant and Bar for Downtown New Canaan

Despite some concerns regarding outdoor lighting, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to allow a hot dog-themed restaurant to open in a commercial space in downtown New Canaan. To be located down the “alley” at the top of Elm Street—formerly occupied by New Canaan Music (now on Main Street), near the former Chef Luis restaurant—the new establishment, “White Buffalo,” will include a 13-stool bar and rows of two-person tables that bring the total seating to about 35 to 40 people, according to New Canaan resident Dave Tonkovich, one of three local men who is launching the business. A 1993 New Canaan High School graduate along with business partner Dom Valente—town resident Doug Harris is also an owner—Tonkovich described White Buffalo as a “place where New Canaan as a community can gather and support each other, whether that is having our teams over after a game, hosting a fundraiser for the lacrosse or hockey team, or honoring our local Police Department or Fire Department.”

“We feel like this is something the town needs,” Tonkovich said during a public hearing at Town Hall. “You might say it is built by New Canaan, for New Canaan.”

Tonkovich reviewed some national hot dog consumption data and said that White Buffalo is designed to “fit the bill” for locals meeting after a game or with a friend or client “or when you are coming off the train.”

“Our goal is not to be all things to all people,” he said. Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, restaurants are permitted in the Retail A zone with site plan approval. After some discussion, P&Z approved White Buffalo’s site plan 7-0.

P&Z Votes 9-0 in Favor of Canaan Parish Redevelopment; Look of Exterior To Be Finalized

Saying a new exterior design represented a major improvement if not an acceptable final version, the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night unanimously approved the redevelopment of Canaan Parish, a 60-unit housing complex at Lakeview Avenue and Route 123. Addressing concerns voiced by P&Z at an initial public hearing last month, officials representing the applicant— the 5.2-acre property is owned by the town and an organization called ‘New Canaan Neighborhoods’ owns the buildings—reduced the height of two new buildings proposed for the site by six to seven feet, added architectural features for a more local residential feel, toned down the color scheme and increased screening from the street with more robust landscaping. In the end, the redevelopment is expected to achieve one major goal of the town as well as the New Canaan Housing Authority, which is partnering with New Canaan Neighborhoods on the project—namely, to ensure that New Canaan doesn’t open itself up to a loophole in a state law that allows developers to ignore local planning decisions in places that do not meet strict affordable housing requirements. Plans call for rebuilding the 60-unit Section 8 housing complex in a single five-story structure and construction of a new, 40-unit structure of the same height that would count toward the state’s affordable housing requirement. New Canaan is never expected to reach a guideline whereby 10 percent of its housing stock qualifies as “affordable” under the state’s rigid definition, though the town by creating additional qualifying units at Mill Pond has earned four years of relief from the developer loophole.

P&Z: Board of Ed Lacks Site Plan Approval for ‘Alternative High School’ Downtown

The Board of Education plans to install New Canaan’s first-ever “alternative high school” on the second floor of the downtown building its administration currently occupies, though town officials on Tuesday night raised concerns that required zoning approvals for such a program have not yet been obtained. Specifically, the Board of Ed needs approval for a site plan in order to move forward with the program on the second floor of 39 Locust Ave., members of the Planning & Zoning Commission said during their regular meeting. 

Though school starts Thursday, the Board of Ed “missed a deadline” to get on the agenda for this week’s meeting, according to P&Z Chairman John Goodwin. “I think when they make the site plan application in September we will learn more,” Goodwin said at the meeting, held at Town Hall. “What is unfortunate is that they are going ahead and doing this without the site plan approval. So my question to them next month is, why did they miss the deadline?”

No Board of Ed members or district administrators attended the meeting.

P&Z: Grace Farms ‘Auction Items’ Events May Violate Conditions of Approval

Town officials on Tuesday are expected to decide whether Grace Farms may host a dozen events planned as auction items for the organization’s annual fundraiser in October. In approving Grace Farms for its amended Special Permit last year, the Planning & Zoning Commission specified that the Lukes Wood Road organization may not host so-called “Sustainability Events,” where space is used by commercial entities to generate revenue. Yet raising funds by auctioning off specific events at Grace Farms—planned events include cooking, baking, cocktail, March Madness and college football parties—may amount to the same thing, meaning they would be prohibited under the approved permit, P&Z members said at their most recent meeting. “This sounds like the equivalent of renting the property out for a kids’ dinner, kids’ party and everything else, except that it’s through a charity,” Commissioner John Kriz said at P&Z’s July 31 meeting, held at Town Hall. “Somehow that is stressing more of a distinction than a difference.