10 Reasons To Attend Tonight’s ‘Forum on Public Buildings’


Waveny House. Credit: Michael Dinan

New Canaan has wrestled for years with questions about how best to use the buildings it owns—inquiries that have evolved, in some cases, to whether or not the town should sell or even raze specific assets. With the revaluation (and diminished Grand List) bringing a renewed focus on municipal spending, town officials during this budget season and in the months that follow will make decisions that determine whether the New Canaan will continue to own some of its public buildings and, if so, how they’ll be used. In cases such as the former Outback Teen Center, those discussions are already well underway. 

A follow-up to an event held last Spring, the “Forum on Public Buildings Part II”—to be held 7 to 9 p.m. (6:30 p.m. coffee) Wednesday at Town Hall—includes a diverse panel and an opportunity for attendees to share their opinions and questions. 

Here are 10 reasons to go:

  1. Money: New Canaan’s use and ownership of the buildings under discussion goes a long way to determining maintenance costs, as well as revenues related to rentals, for years to come.
  2. Availability: The Forum will not be televised. [THIS HAS CHANGED—we heard today that Channel 79 has agreed to record the Public Forum and it will be available for viewing later on the Channel 79 website.]
  3. Panel: Panelists for this Forum represent a good cross-section of the community. They include not only members of the municipal bodies that determine how taxpayer money is spent—the Boards of Selectmen and Finance and the Town Council—but also a local builder and budget hawk.
  4. Timing: This Forum purposely has been scheduled ahead of budget season in order to glean public opinion on the future of municipal buildings. 
  5. Permanence: In cases where public buildings in question may be razed or sold—for example, Vine Cottage or the Richmond Hill Garage—the town’s decisions are final.
  6. People: Moderators include the chairman of the Town Council, John Engel, and Tucker Murphy, a former Councilman and Board of Education member who serves as executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce. 
  7. Brew: Free coffee from Zumbach’s.
  8. Talk: What transpires at the Forum will form the basis of the discussion at Thursday morning’s Community Coffee, to be held 8:30 a.m. at New Canaan Library.
  9. Competition: There’s nothing else interesting happening Wednesday night (Clemson already won, and “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS is a rerun).
  10. Preservation: Some of the buildings “in play” have significant historical value, including the Police Station, which is the 1927-built original New Canaan High School, and Vine Cottage.

The Forum on Public Buildings II is co-sponsored by the Town of New Canaan, Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee and NewCanaanite.com.

5 thoughts on “10 Reasons To Attend Tonight’s ‘Forum on Public Buildings’

  1. These historic buildings such as the Police Station are what gives the town its character and uniqueness. They are a valuable treasure to the town. Razing and rebuilding will inevitably lead New Canaan to look like virtually every other town in America. There are always ways to retrofit and reuse these buildings in a thoughtful and advantageous way.

  2. Irwin Park, Vine Cottage, Playhouse, Outback, ad nauseam. If there is a seat on the panel available for King Sisyphus I think he would attend.

  3. Q1. The Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee report left out vital information to evaluate real estate. Educated investors do not make the kinds of decisions the Town of New Canaan is discussing at the meeting tonight without this information. I am not sure why NC MBAs or Real Estate professionals have not brought this up before. No decisions can be made until the following information is collected to determine cost/benefits of the Town’s real estate portfolio. When can the following information be provided? When can a subsequent public meeting be held to discuss this topic intelligently?

    1. Replacement value of each building in the report (easy to obtain official quote: ToNC insurance policy – cost to rebuild/replace similar building if asset were lost or Cash Value. This had to be calculated for each building on the insurance policy before it was signed)
    2a. Annual Maintenance costs – broken down in as much detail as possible i.e. electric, heating, painting, etc.
    2b. Annual Income of Building (if rented) or comparable rents if Town rented out similar building.
    2c. Cost of improvements over last 20 years (did Town just install new roof, new heating, new electric?) For example – the town purchased Vine Cottage in 1997 – how much did the town spend to purchase and subsequently spend on renovations i.e. what was invested and upgraded?
    2d. Cost of required future repairs/replacement (in excess of regular maintenance) over next 10 years.
    3. Acreage associated with each building, parking spaces and accessory buildings & Market value of the acreage, parking spaces and accessory buildings (for example – Vine Cottage acreage)
    4. Gaps/Needs of Town or Other Properties Adjacent to Each Town building. For example – Town Hall is in need of parking spaces near town hall after losing many spaces during the TH “renovation” – Town Hall employees will also lose more spaces (+14) they are currently using on Arnold Karp’s Red Cross Historic Building property. The Town paid for stairs leading up to this parking lot recently (Note: The Red Cross Property backyard could conceivably provide even more parking near the RC garage). Vine Cottage has at least 11 parking spaces adjacent to the Town Hall and could have more if reconfigured. Two questions: 1. What are the all Gaps that Town Buildings fills for nearby properties – like the Town Hall/Vine Cottage parking example and 2. What is the cost to replace this value i.e. for the Vine Cottage what is the cost of 11 – 20 parking spaces lost (or 25 – 34 spaces when Red Cross included) if Vine Cottage is sold? These would need to be comparable – on land next to Town Hall – not Locust Street lot – so if Vine cottage is sold and comparable spaces could not be found – but an entire project is needed to create a new parking lot elsewhere what is the plan and cost? i.e.would the town need to buy more homes and demolish them and build more parking at Locust Street lot for Town Hall parking – which is not as convenient at Vine Cottage? What are the all-in unintended consequences cost? These costs need to factored into disposition costs
    5. Expected sales proceeds and annual tax revenue if property were sold?
    Can the Town please provide the above for each building and hold another meeting where the decisions can be discussed intelligently with full information to increase transparency and avoid unintended consequences?
    Q2. Not that long ago – there was a push to demolish many modern homes which are now seen as a huge asset. We don’t know what the future will bring and how valuable some of these Town owned buildings may become. Why isn’t the Town considering the buildings as a Portfolio of Assets (not just liabilities) that the newly formed Tourism Board should carefully review (in concordance with the Historic Section in the 2014 New Canaan Plan of Conservation & Development) before any decisions are made?

    Q3. Can the disposition of Town building assets be open to a Town wide vote – since they actually belong to the taxpayers not to individuals with the most control over their disposition? Kevin Moynihan at the LOWV Breakfast in September 2018 was asked if the Town residents could vote rather on the buildings disposition rather than the Selectman having a final decision: He said: No – that’s not the way things are done in New Canaan. Why not? How can we change this? No amount of public meetings – changes the fact that a handful of people have the final say – they can disregard any or all questions and input from the public meetings and make decisions based on political or personal preferences – with little or no control by the general population. To prevent bias and other arbitrary influences, can disposition of public buildings please be voted on by the general population of New Canaan?

    Q4. The Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee, Town Council and Selectman also neglected to review Town Buildings in accordance with the 2014 New Canaan Plan of Conservation and Development – Historic Building Section. P&Z passed this plan and the Town of New Canaan is required to adhere to its rules – if not by law than by good faith – especially since P&Z (which is in essence a CT State Agency – not local New Canaan agency – abides by State laws with no legal accountability to residents of the Town of New Canaan or Town Council aside from the rules they create in the POCD and zoning) don’t consistently follow the historic section of the POCD. The Town Government & Town Council should set an example as a local resident control organization to follow the 2014 POCD. When can an evaluation of the buildings according to the 2014 POCD Historic sections specifically be completed? This question and request addresses intangible issues which make New Canaan so vibrant and different from other communities. Not everything is about tax income – the intangibles of the NC Village are also valuable and can be easily lost if being financially exploited for easy short-term revenue wins.
    http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9490/293/331/12636/16619/Adopted_POCD_-_Effective_04-01-2016.pdf pg 22

    http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9490/293/331/12636/16619/Adopted_POCD_-_Effective_04-01-2016.pdf pg 1E – 4

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