The owners of a structure in New Canaan’s Historic District where an affordable housing redevelopment is planned are calling for an appointed town body to schedule a hearing on an application or face legal action.
An attorney representing the owners of 51 Main St.—known locally as “the Red Cross building” for its former use—on Tuesday noted in a letter to the Historic District Commission that it has 65 days from the date of his client’s application for a “Certificate of Appropriateness” (Aug. 7) to issue a decision.
That would put the hearing date, at the latest, at Oct. 11, according to the letter from attorney Tim Hollister, a partner at Hartford-based Hinckley Allen who represents local developer Arnold Karp’s ownership limited liability company.
“We have had no response setting a date or an explanation about the delay,” Hollister said. “This letter, therefore, is to request the Commission to schedule the hearing for the early evening of either Wednesday, October 18 or Thursday, October 19. The applicant’s team members are available these two nights and these dates are far enough out to allow for proper notice. The applicant hereby prospectively grants an extension of time to these dates to convene the hearing. If we do not hear from the Commission by October 5, 2023 regarding a hearing date, we will need to seek a court order regarding scheduling the hearing and processing of the application.”
As of Sept. 28, municipal records showed that the Historic District Commission hasn’t met since January and has no meeting scheduled for October.
Karp in May 2022 applied to the Planning & Zoning Commission to redevelop the .38-acre parcel by moving the ca. 1889 structure closer to the road and putting in a multi-family residential structure with 20 apartments behind it. Six of those apartments would be rented at affordable rates, qualifying the project as an “8-30g” affordable housing development, under the state law by that statute number.
P&Z in March denied a resubmitted application for the project, saying in part that preserving the Historic District “outweighs the need for six (affordable housing units deed restricted for forty years and that “No reasonable changes can be made to this resubmission to remedy the destruction this development would impose” on the Historic District.
Yet the application to P&Z and that body’s denial—now under appeal in Hartford, as per the 8-30g process—is separate from the application that is required to go before the Historic District Commission.
Under the regulations that govern the Historic District, “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.”
That 103-page application, filed in August, lists 11 reasons to approve i, as follows:
- The existing structure will be preserved, which is the goal of the Historic District.
- Moving the existing structure closer to Main Street will not be inconsistent with other front yard setbacks in the historic district, and will make the front of the preserved/restored facade more visible from Main Street.
- New Canaan’s historic district is anything but fully preserved since the 1700s or 1800s. The district contains structures built in recent years; demolitions; changes of use; modifications, and additions.
- The boundaries of the historic district are arbitrary. For example, there is no reason why 51 Main Street is within the district but Vine Cottage, Town Hall and the properties south along Main Street are not.
- The proposed new residential addition is appropriate land use at 51 Main Street, both because the land is in the Residence B Zone; the adjacent 47 Main Street is multi-family residential; and New Canaan has an acute need for both affordable and market-rate rental apartments.
- The new residential structure will be located behind and screened by the preserved/restored structure; will be screened from view by Vine Cottage to the south, mature trees at 47 Main Street to the north; and mature trees at the rear of the property.
- The addition will be only 18 feet higher (mid-point to mid-point) than the preserved structure; lower than the cupola at Town Hall; and only 4 feet higher than Total Building Height allowed in the Residence B Zoning District.
- The design of the new building will be compatible with the preserved structure through use of appropriate building materials, consistent rooflines, setbacks, screening; and yet differentiated through physical separation; and more modern amenities such as balconies and windows.
- The applicant has demonstrated compliance with HDC regulations.
- If this application is denied, the applicant will be forced to pursue demolition of the existing historic structure.
- Obviously, opposition to affordable housing is not a valid or legal criterion for denying a certificate of appropriateness that otherwise meets the standards of the HDC’s regulations.
Though the Historic District Commission has not formally taken up the application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, its members voted in November 2022 in favor of a motion saying the 8-30g redevelopment is not in line with the town’s guidelines for the area.
Attorneys representing Karp’s ownership companies have submitted three applications for 8-30g projects in New Canaan since the town’s last “moratorium” expired in July 2021. In addition to Main Street, they include redevelopments at Weed and Elm Streets, and on Hill Street below Brushy Ridge Road.
As reported, Karp himself has said he’d approached Moynihan and the town several times with more modest proposals at the three properties in question, but those were dismissed out of hand.
In the case of Main Street, Karp said that when the adjacent Vine Cottage went out for bid, he had proposed a modest townhouse development to be called “Colonial Corner,” which would have left in place both Vine Cottage and the former Red Cross building while doing a land swap with the town so that the latter could obtain more parking near Town Hall. His bid for the Vine Cottage wasn’t accepted by the town. (Vine Cottage is not located in the Historic District.)
Meanwhile, the town is expected next week to appoint members to a newly formed Affordable Housing Committee. The nine-member Committee is to include one member each from the Board of Finance, Town Council, Housing Authority and P&Z. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from NewCanaanite.com for the names of those who have raised their hands to join the Committee, the town released this list:
- John Goodwin
- Dave Harvey
- Christine Hussey
- Gail Lavielle
- Krista Neilson (P&Z member)
- Hilary Ormond (Town Council member)
- Julia Portale
- Robert Strong
- Michael Sweeney (Housing Authority member)
- Maria Weingarten (Board of Finance member)
- Jeff Stein
- Jane Stoddard Williams
- Jeff Williams
- Christopher Wilson
In its March denial (available here in full), P&Z did cite testimony from architects who opposed the redevelopment, saying “[t]he design of the new building is incompatible with the Red Cross Building and surrounding historic structures in two ways. a. First, the new building’s height will loom over the historic structures. The current Red Cross Building has a total building height of about 31 feet. The modification’s rear structure’s proposed total building height, excluding the elevator penthouse, is 48 feet 3 inches, meaning it will tower 17 feet above the Red Cross Building. b. Secondly, the massing of the new building is out of scale with the surrounding historic structures. The allowable building coverage for a lot this size, which is similar to other lots in the Historic District, is 2,509 square feet or 15.12% of the lot area. The modification’s proposed building coverage is 10,340 square feet or 62.3% of the lot area.”
Architect David Parker, who testified before P&Z in February while the re-submitted application was open, said that “the scale, bulk, and proportions of the immense new building— which will be only five feet behind the relocated Red Cross/Rectory—are incongruous with every single structure in the still village-like Church Hill Historic precinct.”
He added: “Importantly, mimicking elevations of the historic 1,900 square foot home’s gabled ends on the broad façades of this approximately 27,000 sq. ft. structure at a scale up to 5 times that of the Red Cross/Rectory makes the new building neither proportional nor sympathetic. Rather, it overwhelms the historic house it purports to save and protect. Furthermore, it makes no sense to describe a monolithic new building like this as ‘Queen Anne’ and, therefore, appropriate simply because it has faux pitched roofs and (24) modern balconies.”