A Ponus Ridge historic site and architectural tourist attraction is seeking modest changes to its operating permit, according to papers filed with the town.
The Philip Johnson Glass House is requesting permission to increase its hours of operation and to change when town approval is required for certain events, according to an application to modify an existing Special Permit, filed June 26 with Planning & Zoning.
The current Special Permit authorizes the use of National Trust for Historic Preservation site as a “limited public access museum,” according to the application. The 49-acre site, which includes 14 buildings designed by the famed architect, opened to the public in 2007.
An application, filed by attorney Ted O’Hanlan of Robinson + Cole, seeks to extend the public tour season by two weeks at both the beginning and end—meaning it would begin April 16 and end Dec. 15. It also requests permission for Sunday tours to begin at 10 a.m. (currently 12 p.m.), for the Glass House to remain open until 8 p.m. on two days per week, rather than one, and for the museum once per month to remain open until 10 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday, or 8 p.m. on a Sunday.
Further modifications sought in the application include: an increase in the number of people permitted to attend the Glass House’s lone annual on-site fundraiser from 400 to 500; to allow for the Glass House to merely notify, rather than obtain approval from, the zoning inspector for up to 15 “Special Small Group Events” during each tour season; and “the option to valet park guests’ vehicles at nearby public or private facilities” by prior arrangement.
The reason for the changes is to generate more revenue, the application said. A number of buildings on The Glass House site, including the Brick House, Pond Pavillion and the Glass House itself, require stabilization and restoration, work which is “labor-intensive and expensive, and is necessary to preserve the future of The Glass House collection,” the application said.
“Based on regular operating and routine maintenance expenses, and the projected vs. actual cost of the completed restoration projects to date, The Glass House has determined its annual budget should be increased by at least $500,000 to meet its ongoing preservation needs,” the application said.
The Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to take up the application at its next regular meeting on July 30.
The Glass House’s permit was most recently modified in May 2016, with the changes made at that time giving rise to some debate among P&Z commissioners. At that time, a three-year moratorium was imposed on further requests for modification from the Trust. That period has now expired, and the Trust seeks that no further moratorium be imposed.
Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, The Glass House is classified as a club or other organization “providing social, cultural and recreational uses serving a community need…and not including any activity carried on primarily for profit.” As such, in order to receive and maintain its Special Permit, The Glass House must meet a number of criteria set out in the zoning regulations.
According to the application, the proposed modifications to The Glass House’s hours “will not increase the intensity of the museum use on the days of visitation.”
The application says that increasing the attendance cap on the annual fundraiser “will not change the nature of the event.”
“For the past three years, no complaints have been received by The Glass House or the Planning and Zoning Department on this, or any other event held on the Property. This reflects how well these events are managed by The Glass House’s executive staff, and how effective the sloping topography of the Property works to screen activities from the surrounding neighborhood.”
The application includes data on visits and events on the site.
The changes to the parking provisions in the Glass House’s existing Special Permit “will significantly reduce the number of shuttle trips from the Visitor Center in downtown New Canaan to the site along neighborhood streets, as well as free up downtown public parking spaces for patrons of local merchants,” the application said.
Overall, the application states, “[t]he Proposed Modifications will allow the Trust to meet its fiscal responsibilities for preservation of The Glass House historic site as a significant local, state, and national architectural resource.”
A cover letter submitted with the application said that the modifications would not compromise “the intent of the Special Permit, the Regulations with respect to its presence in a residential zone, or the integrity of The Glass House as a National Historic Landmark. The Trust is confident that with the Proposed Modifications, the site will remain a “low-impact” institutional use respectful of its neighbors and the trust placed in it by the Planning and Zoning Commission.”