‘Waveny Meadows’: Conservancy Seeks Special Permit in Dramatic Transformation of Cornfields Area

After earning unanimous support from three separate town bodies, members of the Waveny Park Conservancy have applied for a special permit for a project that’s expected to transform dramatically a long-disused corner of one of New Canaan’s cherished areas.

The nonprofit organization’s plans for “the cornfields” in Waveny’s southeastern corner require special permit approval under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations because the work will involve soil disturbance of more than 10,000 square feet—about 30 times more.

A part historically of the cleared farmland that composed much of Waveny prior to the town’s acquisition of the land in 1967, the cornfields area had been a wildflower meadow largely left alone until several years ago, when it was leveled to serve as a staging ground for material dredged from Mead and Mill Ponds, according to an application filed on behalf of the conservancy by local landscape architect Keith Simpson, a board member of the group.

“The Waveny Park Conservancy, and its donor partners, is proposing to improve the cornfields into an area of passive recreation with open meadows, trails, and other wildlife enhancements,” Simpson wrote in a description of the project that forms part of the application. “There are several steps that must occur to achieve the desired goals.”

Those steps include using excavation machinery to remove a highly invasive grass called ‘phragmites’—stalks and root systems alike—and re-grading the entire area. At that point, the earthen berms installed by the town will be removed “and graded into the open areas and added to the proposed rolling topography,” Simpson said. The re-grading should be done by early summer, and then mowing activities will commence to address invasive vegetation.

“In early fall of 2017, the entire area is proposed to be roto-tilled and debris collected and removed,” Simpson said. “The entire disturbed area will be seeded with red clover to stabilize the site.”

When the meadows are ready, wildflower seeding will take place throughout, and then improvements such as trail enhancement, creation of seating areas and wildlife lookout areas can move forward.

Last month, the donor- and volunteer-supported Waveny Park Conservancy’s plans earned unanimous approval from the Parks & Recreation Commission, Board of Finance and Town Council.

The cornfields project—made possible by a $300,000 grant from the Jeniam Foundation, established by the late Andrew Clarkson—is one of several major efforts that the conservancy has sketched out in the short term. Its biggest project involves making more visible, functional and attractive the pond at the foot of the sledding hill. With an eye on raising funds to help support that plan and for the conservancy’s ongoing maintenance of the areas it addresses, the group recently announced its Golden Gala. To be held Dec. 2, the event’s honorary co-chairs will be Christopher Lloyd, the actor who grew up at Waveny as Ruth Lapham Lloyd’s son, and his wife Lisa.

Meanwhile, according to the application filed by Simpson, maintenance for the cornfields area would involve annual mowing, trail maintenance and removal of invasive species. The finished project would be known as ‘Waveny Meadows,’ he said.

The application is expected to come before the Planning & Zoning Commission at its March 28 meeting.

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