New Canaan homeowners whose properties abut a proposed public footpath off of Weed Street are calling for town officials to condition approval of a subdivision connected to the would-be walkway on making sure it’s inconspicuous and appropriately maintained.
It isn’t clear just how the New Canaan Land Trust intends to get hikers out of the woods and across a wetlands-laden parcel that the nonprofit organization owns just north of a driveway at 929 Weed St.
As part of a proposed subdivision of that 9-acre lot now before the Planning & Zoning Commission, a strip of land has been set aside that ultimately would connect the Land Trust’s property, which fronts Weed Street, through the woods and back to the New Canaan Nature Center.
The grand vision is for a public “greenway” that embraces some principles of the recently updated Plan of Conservation and Development. Specifically, under this vision, pedestrians would be able to complete a loop from downtown New Canaan—say, up Oenoke and through the Nature Center, then out by way of the Land Trust property on Weed and then to Irwin Park and by way of a future sidewalk to the top of Elm Street, back downtown again.
What’s emerging as the trickiest part of that entire loop is the piece just north of Irwin Park—namely, getting people who use the footpath safely and responsibly from the Land Trust’s property to the corner of Weed and Wahackme.
Stephanie Radman, who lives directly across Weed Street from the proposed subdivision at number 929, said during a public hearing Tuesday that the footpath should remain on Land Trust property as much as needed—inside a stone wall already in place, rather than, for example, by installing a new sidewalk along Weed Street just there.
“This solution will provide a connector for the Land Trust in order to allow them to build their walking path on their property,” Radman said during the hearing, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center. “The neighbors feel very strongly that if the Land Trust wants to build this loop, they need to make it on their property and need to maintain it on their own, all the while keeping the walking path on the east side of the existing stone wall—it is already part of the Land Trust property. I would ask that you make a small easement of no more than six to eight feet wide a condition of approval for your application.”
Land Trust representatives who were on hand for the public hearing did not address P&Z.
David Rucci, a New Canaan-based attorney representing the applicant, said a buyer already is lined up for one of the three lots (the existing one, with the house already on it) and that there’s interest from a contract purchaser on the others. While nothing has been formally worked out in terms of what the Land Trust will do with that final portion of the walking path before it lets out somewhere on Weed, Rucci said, “we do have an agreement with them as to at least where it can’t go, because we don’t want it up against the current driveway for our property.”
For subdivisions of lots as big as this one, New Canaan’s Zoning Regulations allow for the town to take a set-aside of up to 10 percent. While from a pure acreage standpoint the conservation easement that connects to the Land Trust property (along the northern edge of 929 Weed St.) is preferable for the developer, Rucci said more than once during the hearing that there’s also a conforming plan in hand that would give the town its full 10 percent set-aside.
On Monday, the Inland Wetlands Commission approved (on some conditions) 6-0 with one abstention a 16-foot wide accessway that will feed all three planned lots.
Regarding the footpath that’s at the center of discussions surrounding the application, there’s an open question about whether P&Z legally can condition approval for the subdivision on details about how the Land Trust intends to “complete the loop” to Weed Street, since the organization’s property is not part of the application except insofar as the easement is concerned.
Two Sunset Hill Road neighbors whose properties back up to that proposed footpath—John Wood and Frank Fetchet—asked P&Z for time to discuss further with the applicant what screening would be appropriate for the footpath and especially to block light—presumably from more cars pulling into the driveway, with two additional lots—from shining toward their homes.
Saying that they’ve had good open discussions with Rucci, they also asked P&Z to make it explicit in their approval that the owners of the property where the easement exists are responsible for maintaining the trail there, and to be sensitive to the wetlands.
Radman said it would be unfair to New Canaan taxpayers to expect them to foot the bill for a new sidewalk “because one property owner doesn’t want to have people crossing their driveway.”
She said such a sidewalk project would be an “enormous expense” and that a far safer option would be to get the foot traffic away from the street and inside the stone wall and Land Trust property as soon as possible.
“They could still create a grand private estate entry with gates or whatever you want to do—it would just be a few feet further into Weed Street,” she said. “It actually works for the applicant’s benefit, since it will be a known path crossing for future work, and the developer and subsequently their prospective buyers will not have to spend years worrying about whether or not the Land Trust will put a walking path filtered to their residences.”
Here’s the area in question: