We commend the New Canaan Planning & Zoning Commission for its responsiveness, diligence and care in updating the rules that say what types of businesses can occupy street-level commercial space in the downtown.
More than one year in the making and with contributions from individuals within and outside the appointed body, P&Z’s work culminated in two changes recently that commercial property owners are hailing as proactive and timely.
First, following several months of discussions, P&Z voted unanimously in April to update the New Canaan Zoning Regulations so that service businesses in the “Retail A” zone—the very heart of the downtown, including Elm and Main Streets—may occupy first-floor spaces so long as there’s a retail component facing the street. The idea for the text change came to the Commission because P&Z actively sought ways it could help the downtown. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy advised a P&Z committee led by Secretary Jean Grzelecki, and the Zoning Regulations amendment went into effect in May. Last week, P&Z approved two site plan applications made under those reworked regs, and as a result two new businesses are slated to open on Main Street.
P&Z last week also approved changes to the rules that govern what types of businesses are allowed to occupy first-floor spaces in the “second ring” of downtown New Canaan. Following its approval of local land use attorney David Rucci’s cogent application to update the “Business A” zone Regulations, offices may occupy street-level spaces on “upper” Elm, Grove, Pine and Cherry Streets. As a result, the former Post Office/Mrs. Green’s space at Park and Pine, vacant for more than two years, is on track to get a new tenant.
P&Z Chairman John Goodwin, who himself had been part of New Canaan’s “Market Demand Study” one decade ago and has led the Commission through these recent changes, credited Rucci for his sound research and sensible arguments, as well as Lynn Brooks Avni, the new town planner. In presenting to P&Z, Brooks Avni assessed and weighed the proposal’s pros and cons, imagined its unintended consequences and solicited feedback from important sources such as Glenn Chalder, the primary consultant on New Canaan’s Plan of Conservation & Development.
P&Z in recent years has fielded several highly complex, divisive and consequential applications, from Merritt Village and Grace Farms to Silver Hill, New Canaan YMCA and Philip Johnson Glass House, and in some cases the fallout from its decisions has led to further hearings before judges and state officials.
In that context, the Commission’s ability to work with inclusiveness toward what may be called the most significant changes to the Zoning Regulations in 20 years is remarkable.
The winners here are not just landlords and business owners, but also downtown visitors and the wider community.
And town officials appear to be honoring the Commission’s clear and explicit efforts to buoy the business district: On Tuesday, in approving a slate of dozens of volunteers for local boards and committees, the Board of Selectmen appointed Phil Williams, owner of New Canaan Music on Main Street, as a new alternate to P&Z.
Members of the Commission include Goodwin, Grzelecki, Jack Flinn, John Kriz, Krista Nielson, Laszlo Papp, Dan Radman, Claire Discornia, Kent Turner, Dick Ward and Bill Redman. Elizabeth DeLuca also had served on the Commission for years until very recently.