‘A Reasonable Consensus’: Developer of Proposed ‘Merritt Village’ Complex Reduces Number of Units, Height of Buildings


The owners of a 3.29-acre property on the edge of downtown New Canaan on Thursday night unveiled a scaled-back version of the proposed condominium-and-apartment complex that’s caused wide discussion in town since it was presented in June.

Instead of 123 units in four 4-floor multifamily dwellings, Merritt Village would have 116 units (55 condos, 61 apartments) and its townhouse-style buildings would rise no more than 3.5 stories, with some of the proposed structures coming down to two stories, according to representatives for the applicant, property owner M2 Partners.

The architects of the proposal would prefer to move forward with what originally had been submitted to the town, though the modified plan takes into consideration reasonable concerns raised by third-party consultants and neighbors, Dan Granniss of project designer SLAM Collaborative of Glastonbury told members of the Planning & Zoning Commission at a special meeting.

Though M2 Partners does not expect to garner “100 percent consensus,” still “we want to come to a reasonable consensus and we believe the modified design has done just that,” Granniss said during the meeting, which drew more than 100 attendees to Town Hall.

The modified proposal was made public during the fourth hearing on Merritt Village, currently the site of Merritt Apartments, a 38-unit complex.

P&Z since it received the application has called for reviews by third-party consultants in areas that include traffic, real estate valuation and neighborhood impact.

While those experts have presented their findings, many neighbors have questioned the studies’ conclusions in speaking out against the project—citing especially the “loom factor” of the originally proposed four stories, as well as fears of increased traffic, schoolchildren flooding public schools and the potential that introducing so much additional housing would decrease home values throughout the town. In some cases, those opposed to the Merritt Village proposal have said the project threatens to alter the character of New Canaan.

Meanwhile, advocates for the project have said it would meet a pressing need for in-town housing that serves seniors and accomplishes many of the goals of New Canaan’s Plan of Conservation & Development, sending prospective customers and diners into downtown businesses while presenting new options for living in proximity to the village center and train station. Advocates also note that Merritt Village would expand an underserved rental market in New Canaan while putting parking underground and providing for increased green space and mid-block pedestrian access.

Many of the same arguments came before P&Z during the hearing, with some new ones.

New Canaan’s Joe Rucci, of the Darien-based Rucci Law Group, said he represented St. Aloysius Church and that his priority was the “public health, safety and welfare” of the church, school and students. Rucci said he also was “very troubled with arriving here tonight and seeing what is, in effect, a new application.”

“I had no idea this was coming, no opportunity to look at the data, and now the commission seems to feel it has a gun to its head,” Rucci said.

He added that P&Z if it chose to, it could treat the modified plan as an entirely new application and “start the clock again.”

Tom Butterworth noted that he lives with his wife in New Canaan’s oldest home, a 1724-built antique on Carter Street, and that they would not be able to “trundle in” such a home forever.

The couple would “want facilities to live in just like the ones that are being proposed now.”

Though he had not studied the modified plan, Butterworth said he “does not see a problem.”

“I support, on balance, the proposal and I have no ties with the developer or project,” he said.

Ultimately, P&Z continued the matter to its regular meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall. The town statutorily could take another week or so prior to making a decision on the application, Town Planner Steve Kleppin said.

Commissioners asked the applicant’s representatives whether the modified plan still includes a sidewalk along the western side of Park Street (it allows for room to create it, yes, though it makes more sense to ensure the sidewalk can continue past the Merritt property), whether it’s possible to put in a crosswalk on Park Street near the Richmond Hill intersection if no sidewalk extension is installed there (that’s up to the town though mid-block crossing is not ideal), how much closer to Park Street would the shorter building be (it would be about 38 feet from the street compared to 43 feet under the original plan), whether modified plans call for buildings in two cases that are slightly larger than originally submitted (yes in terms of overall volume, and one of them is located somewhat closer to Park Street), where will the new “property line” between condos and apartments go if the complex is built as now suggested (how the land is separated when it comes to condominiums is contained in a separate agreement, though the space between condos and apartments is open green space), how many aboveground parking spaces would be eliminated in the building closest to Park Street under the modified plan (all of them), whether planned handicapped spaces complied with ADA regulations (yes, both state and federal requirements, in terms of location, number, grading and size of spaces), whether emergency equipment could get into the parking garage (there are sprinklers planned for the garage and it’s been reviewed by the New Canaan fire marshal), what is the height of the garage ceiling (no shorter than 12 feet, taller in some areas), whether there are any changes planned for the screening under the modified plan (no, though there’s room for more landscaping where parking has been eliminated), what people would use private “roof decks” for (grilling if allowed, and sitting in the sun), what is the square footage of those decks (don’t know—they’re not fully designed) and whether solar panels had been considered for the roof (no they haven’t been considered).

They also asked how many school-age kids currently reside in Merritt Apartments (10 to 12), how the modified plan for condominiums and apartments would break down with specific units (in the 55 condos, one 1-bedroom, 46 2-bedroom and eight 3-bedroom; in the 61 apartments, 18 1-bedroom, 41 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom).

Demographic data shows that the units meet a pressing demand in town, according to attorney Steve Finn of Stamford-based Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP, representing M2 Partners.

“The town is great, but those who say it is perfect and should not be changed, with all respect, are shortsighted,” Finn told P&Z.

“Thus, while there is a claim or allegation that the project is too dense, the fact is it appears to us to be directly to the contrary,” he said.

Finn added: “We are not here tonight to argue that the project is perfect, but we do strongly believe that it is a good project and New Canaan is far better off with it than without it.”

Granniss presented new before-and-after renderings (see gallery above) that compared street views of Merritt Village as originally submitted to the shorter buildings—in some cases slightly reconfigured—in the modified plan.

He addressed the proposed underground parking plan. Noting that SLAM took direction from the consultants brought on by P&Z, Granniss said that the total number of spaces would rise from 203 to 212, while the percentage of spaces designated as “tandem parking” would come down from 59 to 54 percent, and the number of spaces per unit goes from 1.65 to 1.83.

“I feel like this is moving the needle in a positive direction with respect to concerns raised for tandem parking,” Granniss said.

Michael Galante, a traffic consultant with Frederick P. Clark Associates of Fairfield, addressed questions and concerns raised by an expert brought in by the town.

Galante noted that several of those at the standing-room-only meeting had chuckled when it was said in opening remarks on the applicant’s behalf that Merritt Village would not negatively impact traffic. He clarified that his findings do not conclude that there will be zero impact on traffic overall, but rather that the changes to traffic volume and flow are allowable within New Canaan’s own guidelines for traffic impact.

“We have an ‘insignificant’ impact, if you want to use that word,” Galante said.

Chairman Goodwin asked for the applicant’s assumptions regarding the ages of those expected to live at Merritt Village.

Granniss said that New Canaan is undergoing a nationwide trend where it needs more senior housing.

“We see a need for empty-nesters but we also see a need for young professionals—that may be part of the ‘workforce housing,’ ” he said, referring to a part of the Merritt Village proposal that seeks to set aside some eight or so smaller rental units at below-market rates.

“What you have in New Canaan are a lot of wonderful and large homes that, over time, have become inappropriate for the marketing needs that New Canaan has,” Granniss said. “A project like this is vital to meet those needs.”

Goodwin also called for clarification regarding the ownership and future stewardship of the so-called “Maple Street Cemetery”—a burial ground that dates to 1825. M2 Partners has said that the site can be divided into three sections, and that the one it owns has no bodies (it is to be preserved as open green space in any case).

The question of title “has to be solved,” Goodwin said.

“It is of historical significance,” he said.

P&Z in the end called for the applicant to collaborate with the town attorney and New Canaan Historical Society, and to supply to the town attorney proof of clear title and any information regarding physical local of those interred there.

“I strongly recommend that there is some sort of resolution before Tuesday, or some sort of guidance,” Goodwin said.

5 thoughts on “‘A Reasonable Consensus’: Developer of Proposed ‘Merritt Village’ Complex Reduces Number of Units, Height of Buildings

  1. Where is the mention of what else took place last night at the P&Z meeting? This article has a clear agenda, because there is no mention here of the presentation of over 1000 signatures of New Canaan homeowners who are against this development. Nor is there any mention of the words spoken by the the gentlemen from Planimetrics, the firm that created our town’s POCD, (state mandated town planning document). The folks from Planimetrics wanted to remind the P&Z that the POCD is a document of guidance…not a mandate for development. And the principle finding in our New Canaan POCD is that our townspeople want to preserve the key elements of our town, character and density, while still allowing for expansion if the market dictates the need. The developer has cherry picked facts to show everything from how tandem parking works… (The developer’s example is of a much smaller development and the parking is above ground. Further, the example of this tandem parking development isn’t in a housing development in the center of a town.)…to the increasing number of seniors in New Canaan, supposedly looking for “senior friendly housing.” Really? There are 40 condos currently in town that are “walking distance to town”, and a whole host of in-town apartments and houses as well, that are averaging over 250+ days on the market with no buyers. If this is “senior friendly housing” how come there are only a handful of handicapped parking spaces? These developers would have you believe that seniors want to park, in tandem, in underground parking (think the Costco lot) and walk hundreds of feet to an elevator, with groceries and packages, rather than park next to a unit like those that are currently available in town. Consensus is now defined as…I want 125…you want the 55 that would be currently compliant with our zoning laws…let’s settle on 116! The developer, by virtue of fair housing laws, cannot guarantee that these 116 units will go to seniors. All 116 could go to families and probably will, thus straining our resources. 18 million dollars is what our bill just was to pay for 21 extra students at Saxe…imagine the millions more in costs that this development will bring and the others that are poised right behind it, should our P&Z change zoning laws. This is an existential issue for our town. One of the questions most often heard from the crowd last night was, “Where is our First Selectman hiding?” Why was Rob again absent from last night’s meeting? Why is he not speaking up along with (and for) the 1000 people/families who are opposed to this? This is not a simple P&Z matter. This is the rewriting and re-interpreting of our town plan for the benefit of this developer and the host of others standing right behind him hoping that their projects will also be cleared once our P&Z laws change to accommodate Merritt Village. Over 1000 New Canaan homeowners are against this. More are joining this drumbeat daily. Yet this article would have you believe “compromise” is at hand….hmmm, this seems like advocating…not reporting.

    • Thank you for submitting your comment. Our only agenda at New Canaanite is to get things right, though I understand that in covering a public hearing where so many people took to the podium and spoke on such a wide range of matters tied to the Merritt Village proposal, there’s room for readers to feel that we did not give sufficient “air time” to their own point of view. To respond to each of your points individually: 1. Since the Planning & Zoning commissioners put in their own volunteer hours for all of those months leading to the updated POCD in the summer of 2014, I take it they understand its use as a guiding document. It’s common for P&Z in deliberating on an application to note whether or not it conforms to the principles outlined in the POCD, and in reading the Merritt Village application—it’s available here in the dropdown http://www.newcanaan.info/content/9488/9220/785/803/22886/default.aspx —I do not see the applicant making a case for the redevelopment as a POCD “mandate.” I did hear many of those in attendance murmur in agreement with Glenn Chalder from Planimetrics when he let loose his soundbite, though I did not think his point was sufficiently central to the decision actually facing P&Z to be included in my coverage—just as I observed the unusual and, you might say uncivil sneering, guffawing and applauding of many of those in attendance at the hearing but did not feel a mention of it rose to the level of newsworthiness. 2. Speaking of the crowd, I was sitting in the middle of it to the rear and did not hear anyone call for action on the part of New Canaan’s first selectman—it would be curious if they did, since his office has no jurisdiction over P&Z and this is a proposed redevelopment on private land. I don’t know if you intended it this way, but your comment risks the perception that you are trying, perhaps awkwardly, to politicize this P&Z application by bringing elected officials into it. Normally I would not make that observation here in our comment area—in this case, however, you mention “advocating” and having “a clear agenda” so I want to respond in your own vocabulary. 3. As far as the petition goes, we’ve given ample space to the collection of signatures from Jack Trifero and Betty Lovastik—running their letter on the petition here and in our daily newsletter— https://newcanaanite.com/letter-opposing-the-merritt-village-proposal-in-new-canaan-42668 — and even going back at Betty’s request after it ran to insert a hyperlink to the online petition itself (for which she thanked me). That is one reason I decided not to include their time at the podium in our coverage. Two others are that we make note in the story of every point of opposition they raise as to the substance of the Merritt application, and public petitions—even if they included physical signatures as opposed to those more conveniently collected online—do not prompt action on the part of a planning commission, either in New Canaan’s ordinances or under state law. We also dedicated a past article to this question, and it can be found here: https://newcanaanite.com/protest-vs-public-referendum-clarifying-pz-rules-for-opponents-of-merritt-village-41933 Thank you again for submitting your comment.

  2. Here is a link to the State Statute on POCD. It is not an “aspiration” document, it is a plan. I was really shocked to hear it called that last night, to be honest! https://www.cga.ct.gov/2015/ACT/PA/2015PA-00095-R00SB-01045-PA.htm
    A POCD is a strategic planning document. It lays out the reasons for why we must consider different development scenarios. If this is a statement directly from New Canaan’s POCD, then please tell me how we can honestly say that a reconsideration of some planning policies is solely guided by a developer’s interests? “There is interest in additional development in and near the downtown area for a number of different purposes:
     Housing, particularly for “empty nesters” and senior citizens,”

    I served on one of the Senior Health and Housing Policy Development Teams, and am very aware of the long-standing history, need and attempts to increase and modernize the housing stock that is senior-friendly. No, Merritt Village is not a senior-only home — but it does meet the needs for accessibility and reduced isolation. As the daughter of an aging mom, i know that where the car is parked is less of an issue than the steps to get into the house. My mom can walk on flat ground with her walker. But even a few small steps to get inside someone’s house is a major challenge. She also has trouble using my bathroom. This is what is meant by flat and accessible housing. This is what is limited in the housing stock in New Canaan. What also just struck me about the underground parking and seniors is that people will not have to worry about slipping on ice when getting in and out of their homes! I don’t think that a look at the current, long-open real estate listings is relevant — it’s apples and oranges if it isn’t offering the kind of housing people are looking for.

    For those who are angry at a private developer’s need to make it economically viable, i encourage you to look into the history of senior-friendly — and senior-only — housing in this town and ask yourself why it has been so difficult to accomplish so far. Public-private efforts haven’t had much success.

    Let’s look at the notion of character. Look at the pictures in our POCD which portray character. These show Elm Street, Waveny, Glass House, etc. etc. I don’t see any of the town’s apartment complexes highlighted as an example of our character….Loom and density are issues related to charm, but i suspect that new and tasteful architectural updates proposed with Merritt Village might actually be appealing visually.

    Finally, Saxe was under built from the day it was expanded. It’s long been overcrowded, and the notion that the current expansion is just because of 21 more students is an odd statement to make.

  3. Regarding the editorial response: The P&Z does have jurisdiction over redevelopment of town land as Mr. Dinan says. However, when the applicant has asked for an exemption to P&Z regulations (and POCD interpretation) that is so large and substantive, that has the potential to impact the functioning and resources of the town currently and in the future, and, in effect, when this potential exemption creates new policy and new law, this exemption meets the definition of an activist court where legislation and the executive branch must be involved…otherwise there is no limit to what P&Z can do. This is clearly not how any branch of our local, state or federal government is intended to work. The applicant can, under the POCD, build his senior-friendly housing to the tune of 50+ units and be within the guidelines of the senior-friendly housing plans as noted in the POCD. What they are asking for is more than twice this. I have heard many people in town, as well as after the meeting last night wonder where our town government lands upon this issue, as town government’s intervention, when asking for this much exception is warranted. Lastly, the POCD is a plan for development, when development is needed economically and socially…not just development for the sake of development. (This is where mere interpretation of a regulation must be called into question. Not the ability of the folks who tirelessly work on P&Z, but the actual POCD itself.) It was written at a time when businesses such as GE, UBS and RBS were present in Fairfield County and the economic climate was different. This does not mean that we should only develop in good economic times, but we should also not interpret POCD reguIations in a vacuum either. I agree that we need housing dedicated to seniors, complete with ramps and accessibility, developed in small clusters that would enable emergency personnel easy access. However that isn’t what is being developed here. It is simply housing with elevators from a parking lot where a resident may often be parked 100s of feet away. Economics are important here, as is noting housing value and need. The fact is there are nearly 100 in-town New Canaan housing units that are currently available for seniors and others. Rental properties, condos and single family homes…one, two and three bedroom units. While some are on two floors, many offer the trade off of easy curb access for care-givers and emergency personnel and the ability to alter a room to provide one floor living. Yet, these housing units sit. According to August’s New Canaan real estate listings, the average time for sale is over 255 days for an in-town condo and the price of these condos has decreased 29% on average. So, I must ask…If our seniors and others need in-town housing so badly…to the extent of doubling the number that P&Z could currently approve for Merritt Village without exemption…right now…why are folks not buying these units? I’ll bet that many of the units that are currently available, while not all elevator accessible, are a lot less expensive than those that are being proposed by Merritt Village, even when they are made more accommodating for seniors. And what are the rental and purchase prices of the proposed Merritt Village units anyway? Shouldn’t seniors factor that in? Perhaps I overlooked where this applicant has noted pricing for the condos. Further, the notion of underground parking came up and was dismissed when the town was looking to increase parking in New Canaan. It was taken off the table in part because of the fear that many people have of potential crime that occurs in these types of underground garages. With the new proposal at Merritt Village now espousing shared parking for the 55 condo owners and 60+ apartment renters and their guests and others, why are the objections that were so steadfast when this type of parking was a town proposal no longer relevant? I do offer my regards and thanks to the people who tirelessly deal with town issues and to those whose job is the reporting on them. I just don’t do it at the expense of altering our town so dramatically.

    • Thank you for this response. All I would say about what you are calling an ‘exception’ is that what the applicant is seeking is an overlay to the Apartment Zone (see section 5.4 on page 98 here: http://newcanaan.info/filestorage/9490/293/331/Zoning_Regulations.pdf ) and that absolutely is allowed within the New Canaan’s Zoning Regulations, as Bill Redman among other P&Z commissioners have noted at past public hearings. Regarding this question of whether those who are elected to offices that have no oversight of P&Z should weigh in on this matter of redevelopment on private land, I suppose it’s fair to ask that though I’m not sure it’s fair to expect it, if for no other reason than they have no jurisdiction. State law sets it up so that the local planning commission draws up a POCD and hears these applications and makes decisions on them—as far as that goes, the process here is playing out as it should. Regarding your questions about the real estate valuation and the Merritt Village proposal, I am sure you read the neighborhood impact study prepared by Kerin & Fazio—also available in the dropdown here: http://www.newcanaan.info/content/9488/9220/785/803/22886/default.aspx … Also, if you haven’t seen them already, it may be worthwhile to watch Kerin’s presentation to P&Z at two recent public hearings on Merritt Village, from July 26 and (here: https://vimeo.com/176940189 ) and Aug. 30 (here: https://vimeo.com/181043413 ). In watching those, I would pay special attention to what P&Z commissioner Tony Shizari has to say, as it was his prodding that led to the Kerin study and he had pointed questions for the firm at subsequent hearings. Regarding the rates at the rental units and condos, I imagine the developers cannot set those price points until they know the cost of construction—that is, how many they can build.

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