A member of New Canaan’s legislative body is calling for municipal officials to examine whether it’s time to offload town-owned structures that she described as “under-utilized.”
Town Councilman Penny Young said Monday that “it is really time to look a little more in-depth” at “some of these buildings which are under-utilized or which we should be offloading.”
“Other than the swing space for a possible need for the police, what do we do with the Irwin House?” Young said during a regular meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure, held via videoconference. “Because it’s really not that great a structure. So maybe the recommendation is that after the police have use of it, it’s demolished. So I think we really need to take a good look. What is happening with Vine Cottage? Is there still a buyer interested? So, I think that would be a good project in the new year.”
Young herself co-chaired a committee that three years ago spent several months studying New Canaan’s 50-plus town-owned structures and making recommendations about their future use. Many of its major recommendations are inter-dependent and must wait for decisions to be made about the long-term home of the New Canaan Police Department and Board of Education, though others have been realized—for example, razing the Mead Park Brick Barn and withholding funding from a Vine Cottage renovation.
Irwin House is a 1963-built former home of John and Jane Watson Irwin, daughter of Thomas Watson Sr. He’d founded IBM and purchased the Weed Street property for his country home (the original house would be destroyed in a fire).
Young’s Committee recommended that the town either put Irwin House to use or conducer whether further investment is warranted.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan noted during Monday’s meeting that the town has been “sort of holding with on Irwin House thinking we may need it for swing space for a Police Department renovation.”
“But at some point we have to face up to what are we going to do with Irwin,” he said.
The topic was raised by Committee member Stuart Sawabini, who called for the appointed body to examine New Canaan’s “enormously long list of buildings that it owns across a large geographic area.”
“I know that historically we have had topics on building utilization,” he said. “And I’m wondering whether that too shouldn’t be a theme for upcoming year.”
“We have Irwin and buildings out there that are under-utilized. You go right around the town and there’s a long list of buildings, and I just wonder whether periodically it wound the advisable for us to go back and look at building utilization and see what we can do to either improve or sell off buildings that we are not using.”
Two summers ago, Moynihan unveiled a proposal to rent out Irwin House to nonprofit organizations. Then-Selectman Kit Devereaux voiced concerns at the time that more public input would be needed on that plan, and it ultimately stalled out at the Board of Finance and Town Council. Two other prominent town-owned buildings that appear to be in play are Vine Cottage on Main Street and The Playhouse on Elm. Last summer, the town began soliciting RPFs from potential buyers for Vine Cottage, and received two responses. However, the New Canaan Health Department moved into the building earlier this year and it’s unclear whether a sale will go forward. The longtime operators of the movie theater in The Playhouse intend to terminate their lease, Moynihan said lat week, opening up the possibility of a sale or new use next year.