Affordable Housing: Appeal of Historic District Commission’s Denial Transferred to Hartford


Rendering of proposed development at 51 Main St. Chris Hull architect

A state Superior Court judge last week granted a local developer’s request to transfer a lawsuit regarding a proposed affordable housing project in New Canaan from Stamford court to the land use docket in Hartford.

In an appeal filed in November, an attorney representing Arnold Karp calls the New Canaan Historic District Commission’s recent denial of a “Certificate of Appropriateness” for a 20-unit housing project on Main Street “arbitrary,” “capricious” and in violation of state law. 

In seeking the transfer to Hartford, attorney Tim Hollister of Hartford-based Hinckley Allen said in a Dec. 22 application, “This appeal raises land use issues including whether the Commission’s reasons for denial were inconsistent with the Commission’s authority per the Historic District enabling statutes.”

Judge Ted O’Hanlan approved the transfer Jan. 2. 

The appeal of the Historic District Commission’s denial is separate from Karp’s appeal of the New Canaan Planning & Zoning Commission’s earlier denial of a proposal to move the so-called “Red Cross Building” at 51 Main St. closer to the roadway and erect a new residential building—offering 20 total living units, six of which would be rented at affordable rates, as per the state’s definition—behind it.

Under the state law known by its statute number, 8-30g, in towns where less than 10% of all housing stock qualifies as affordable (New Canaan is at 2.94%), developers who propose projects where a certain number of units are set aside to rent at affordable rates may appeal to the state after a local P&Z Commission denies their applications. New Canaan since its last moratorium lapsed in July 2021 has received three such applications, at Weed and Elm Streets (120 units), Main Street (20 units) and Hill Street (93 units). P&Z denied all of the applications, now under appeal in state Superior Court in Hartford.

The project at 51 Main St. required not only P&Z approval but also approval from the Historic District Commission, because the building lies within the designated area (map here). Under the town’s Historic District Regulations, “No building or structure shall be erected or altered within the historic district until after an application for a ‘Certificate of Appropriateness’ as to exterior architectural features has been submitted to the Historic District Commission and approved by the Commission.”

Members of the Commission in denying the Certificate flagged the proposed building’s massing, scale, height and proportions.

Karp purchased the ca. 1889-built Red Cross building for $740,000 in 2017. It sits on .38 acres, tax records show.

In the appeal, Hollister said the property “is an appropriate location for a modest-size multi-family building because it has public sewer and water access; is in a downtown location; has pedestrian access to New Canaan’s downtown shopping and services; is adjacent to and abutting New Canaan’s Town Hall and its parking and related facilities; is in walking distance to New Canaan’s train station; is located in an area of institutional, commercial and multi-family buildings and in a zone that allows such uses; is proximate to several public parks and recreational facilities; is adjacent to a residential condominium; and is screened by several large trees.”

Hollister also noted that in appearing before the Historic District Commission, Karp explained that the proposal at 51 Main St. “will preserve the existing 1888 structure, and avoid the alternative of demolition.” (A separate town-appointed body, the Historical Review Committee, in October imposed a 90-day demolition delay on the Red Cross building; the owner applied for a demo permit the following week.)

The application for a Certificate of Appropriateness revealed several problems with the existing Historic District in New Canaan, Hollister said in the appeal, including: “inconsistent street setbacks; inclusion in the district of several buildings that are not historic but relatively new, such as the adjacent 41-47 Main Street, built in 1966, when it replaced a tennis court; buildings in the Historic District have had numerous additions and modifications such as balconies, decks, pools, garages and residential units; several buildings that should be in the district, such as the adjacent Vine Cottage, are not; New Canaan Historical Society has published a brochure about ‘historic New Canaan’ that differs substantially from the formal 1963 district; the map attached to the actual Town historic district ordinance is very inaccurate as to the location and orientation of buildings on each lot; the town has now twice raised the idea of a National Register district (1990 and earlier this year), but due to district property owners’ opposition, not pursued; and overall, it appears that the Town and residents like, and promote, the cache of having an historic district, but in reality the so-called ‘integrity’ of the district has been compromised in numerous ways.”

Hollister concludes, “The Commission’s denial is arbitrary; capricious; in violation of the state’s historic district commission statutes and case law interpreting such statutes; and not supported by substantial evidence in the cord of the application, hearing and decision.”

The appeal calls for the Historic District Commission to be ordered to approve the Certificate of Appropriateness Application, to award costs as per state law and “grant other such and further relief as may be just and proper.”

One thought on “Affordable Housing: Appeal of Historic District Commission’s Denial Transferred to Hartford

  1. If residents are interested in reading more work done by Mr. Hollister I encourage residents to go to the Town Clerk’s office and read the 8-30g moratorium binder now open for public comments. The town does a good job of including the documents submitted on January 2015 for Millport and July 2018 for Canaan Parish – based on the cover pages of both of those applications apparently Mr. Hollister prepared them in part (he also appears to be acting as authorized agent according to some signatures). All documents appear to support the original expectations of both the town and its residents that Millport and Canaan Parish would deliver a second moratorium (and be on our way to a third). Instead the town appears to be dealing with three proposals.

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