The town’s highest elected official said this week that a new suitor has come forward with a proposal to use the main house in Irwin Park, a public building that’s been vacant since municipal offices moved back downtown more than three years ago.
Though New Canaan has already obtained an estimate to demolish Irwin House, “a party came forward and wanted to talk to us about a new proposal,” First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said during the Board of Finance’s regular meeting Tuesday at Town Hall.
“So we are evaluating that proposal and that is why I talked to John Irwin to see if he is willing to modify his deed restrictions to accommodate it,” Moynihan said, referring to the past owner or Irwin House. “So we will come back with a more concrete proposal for you to consider. Demolition is always the alternative.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what party has an interest in using Irwin House or for what purpose. Moynihan during the Town Council’s regular meeting Wednesday said that he would not give details about the proposal until it’s fully in hand.
“We do not have the details,” he told legislative body during that meeting, also held at Town Hall.
Moynihan also told the Town Council that Irwin was “amenable” to waiving some deed restrictions. Some of them restricted use of the property in specific areas.
Both the finance board and Town Council in November had pushed back on a proposal to convert Irwin House into office space for local nonprofit organizations.
This week, Board of Finance member Chris LeBris noted that during its meeting two months ago, officials voiced support for demolishing the building. That prospect also was raised at last week’s Forum on Public Buildings, when panelist and Councilman Penny Young said funds for demolishing the building could be included in the fiscal year 2020 budget that will be finalized in April.
The property at 848 Weed St. originally had been purchased by IBM founder Thomas Watson, Sr. for his country home. The property included 36 acres and included a 1920’s shingle-style house and barn—though the barn still exists, a fire destroyed the original house. New Canaan bought the property for $20 million in 2004.
Young asked during Wednesday’s meeting whether a change the Irwin Park deed would need to go back to the local electorate, since there was a town-wide referendum to purchase the property under the constraints of the deed published at the time.
Moynihan said he didn’t think so but would look into it.
The town in its fluid Five-Year Capital Plan (see page 55 here) has earmarked more than $800,000 for Irwin House through fiscal year 2024.
Why on earth would anyone ever want to demolish this place? Honestly what purpose would that possibly serve? It’s a beautiful, historic building. Even if it remains empty forever, letting it remain standing is a far better (and better looking) option. Between this ridiculous idea, proposing a new road into Waveny, turning the police station into senior condos, paving over baseball fields to build a new police station and potentially dumping vine cottage so delevopers can have a feeding frenzy, Kevin Moynihan baffles me in his weird quest to strip the charm out of this town. Let’s hope this potential mystery tenant is a good thing and saves the day.
I agree. Equally troubling was a comment made by Kevin at last night’s TC meeting that he met privately with prior Irwin Park owner John Irwin “to see if he is willing to modify his deed restrictions to accommodate it (the new suitor who wants to use the main house.”) Who put this thought into Kevin’s head? Who else was included in the discussions with John Irwin?
Kudos to Penny Young for informing Kevin that the taxpayers purchased the park for $20mm in 2004 via referendum with deed restrictions. The Town (taxpayers) purchased the property with those deed restrictions in place. Since when can a prior owner change a recorded deed 15 years later??
What is Kevin’s real agenda???
While it is admirable that B-school analyses are made on various issues, not everything is numerically quantifiable. A reasonably qualified committee has done that already for our capital assets but their results (demolish Irwin house; demolish Mead Park Brick barn, etc) do not in many cases, pass the “right brain” test re: scale, appearance; historical significance, which along with our in town “charm” and large lot zoning, have attracted young, old, conformist, and “artsy” folks over the decades. Someone- or some committee- must add their subjective judgement or indeed the whole place will be looking like Dallas, Queens, and Florida at the same time.
FACTS: The restrictions on the Irwin house are no commercial use and no “full-time” school. The obvious use is to relocate the Board of Education (BOE) that currently rents commercial offices in downtown New Canaan. The BOE is not a commercial activity. It is a governmental activity like the Town’s land use offices that previously occupied the Irwin house.
The only objection heard so far is the BOE rents 9,000 square feet in their current office and the Irwin house is only 7,000. In fact the Irwin house has 7,900 square feet of living area and the continuous garage and guest apartment are another 2,000 square feet of living area. The deed restrictions allow for the expansion of the existing building or their replacement.
Fact There was NO town referendum on the purchase. It was deal completed by principals – Judy Neville and the family. The concern at the time was condo development due to zoning. Ironically, just on the other side of the stone wall the zoning changes which meant a condo complex would have never happened.
New Canaan News (November 19, 2009):
In a vote of 2,310 to 1,432, the town decided to uphold and approve a Town Council decision to purchase the Irwin property for $20 million in 2004. According to explanatory text accompanying the referendum, one-third of the property “may be used by the Town for passive parkland use, including open grass-covered fields, flower and vegetable gardens, trees and paths, picnic tables and other similar family uses.” The remaining two-thirds of the property is “designate[d] … as parkland for active recreation and athletic use … such as soccer, baseball or football fields.”
Town electors voted at a town-wide referendum on December
14, 2004, to approve the purchase, and many supporters relied on expectations of park use for active recreation and athletic fields. The Town
of New Canaan purchased the property in April 2005, paying $20 Million, discounted from $24 Million due to the restrictions on the property.
Thanks Betty. I stand corrected.