‘It Should Be Called Bank of Somalia’: Papp Slams Bank of America for Unkempt Property on Elm


The Bank of America property opposite the Playhouse on Elm Street is unkempt and unsightly, and New Canaan should have some mechanism—in its Town Code, budget or Zoning Regulations—to either force the bank to spruce up the area or empower the town to fix it promptly, officials say.

A committee charged with making recommendations on how the recently updated Plan of Conservation & Development might be implemented is taking a hard look at improvements to the downtown, including the rather unkempt area outside the BoA building on Elm. Credit: Michael Dinan

A committee charged with making recommendations on how the recently updated Plan of Conservation & Development might be implemented is taking a hard look at improvements to the downtown, including the rather unkempt area outside the BoA building on Elm. Credit: Michael Dinan

If New Canaan doesn’t have the authority now, then the Town Council should adopt an ordinance that would force the Bank of America and other businesses whose properties front public sidewalks downtown to “do a decent job,” Planning & Zoning Commission member Laszlo Papp said Wednesday at a meeting of the Plan of Conservation and Development (or “POCD”) Implementation Committee.

“The area in front of Bank of America is atrocious,” Papp said at the meeting, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department. “Bank of America doesn’t even deserve the name—it should be called ‘Bank of Somalia.’ That is the way it looks.”

Part of the "non-garden," as officials are calling it, outside the Bank of America building on Elm Street. Credit: Michael Dinan

Part of the “non-garden,” as officials are calling it, outside the Bank of America building on Elm Street. Credit: Michael Dinan

The criticism emerged during a wider discussion of improving aesthetics downtown, among members of the committee—an advisory group of elected and appointed officials, municipal employees and residents, charged with seeing through relevant recommendations of the recently updated POCD (see especially Section 4, starting on page 29 here).

The parcel occupied by Bank of America is owned by a company, care of a separate company whose principal is a Danbury woman, according to records on file with the town Assessor and Connecticut Secretary of the State. Bank of America spokesperson T.J. Crawford when reached by NewCanaanite.com said that landlord and owner, J. Elliott Smith Holdings LLC, is responsible for the landscaping, under the lease.

Because there’s no separation now between downtown and non-downtown on certain line items in the municipal budget—for example, on major sidewalk upgrades and repair (all of which goes to the downtown, in any case)—what’s needed are dedicated funds for items such as garbage cans, signage, maintenance and special projects such as the Bank of America property, said Tiger Mann, assistant director of the Department of Public Works.

“[New Canaan-based landscape architect] Keith [Simpson] did a fantastic plan for that area, and it can never come to fruition, because we don’t own it,” Mann said. “We can’t go on private property without their permission, without everyone telling us it’s OK to go, so we are stuck.”

Yet the town might establish a “building line” that includes the Bank of America “alcove” that runs differently from the property line at 96 Elm St., said Simpson, also a member of the committee.

Specifically, P&Z could designate the area as “public” based on use, freeing up the town to access and improve it, Simpson said.

Committee Chairman Jean Grzelecki (of P&Z) and New Canaan Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy both said that the question of keeping up the Bank of America property and other downtown projects comes down to money.

Grzelecki referred to the planters outside Bank of America as a “non-garden.”

“All that’s in the planters is gum wrappers and junk,” she said.

Murphy noted that Bank of America was responsive when the cupola atop the building (it originally was constructed in 1929 as the New Canaan Post Office—then on Main Street—and was designed to complement the 1923 Playhouse opposite) had been deteriorating.

“Is it what I would think is acceptable? No it is not,” Murphy said of the property out front.

She added: “I see it as being just a dollars and cents. I mean everybody is doing all they can do. But we really need to have some money” and “exactly what it is going to be used for: the crown jewel of the town, which is the downtown.”

Mann noted that the “downtown still gets the lion share of money” allocated for things such as sidewalk repair.

Mann and others walked through the downtown and made notes on improvements that are needed, he said, “but I feel the town fathers have to put their money where their mouth is—if they feel the downtown is the lifeblood of the town, then we need to spend money on that.” New Canaan must “put together a budget number and say, ‘This is our budget number’ and then fund that budget number and say, ‘OK,’ and they can narrow down” what it must be used for specifically.”

For Papp, the problem is not a matter of funding only.

“This committee should press the so-called town fathers to do better,” he said.

8 thoughts on “‘It Should Be Called Bank of Somalia’: Papp Slams Bank of America for Unkempt Property on Elm

  1. As a Somalian I take exception to the derogatory portrayal of Somalia in one Mr Papp’s comment on Bank of America premises (see the article). Because of the way the frontage of the bank has been delabiadated and neglected, he saw fit to rename the bank as Bank of Somalia. This is outright silly, insenstive and ignorant. Why would one make such a poor choice of words as to insult an entire nation just to comment on munucipal issue of a small town? It is not just the premises but also Papp’s muddled mind which is basically unkempt. For his information he should know that Mogadishu streets are much cleaner now than the froantage of Bank of America building he deacribed.

  2. The subject is the disgraceful condition of the “planters, ” now mostly trash collectors, in front of BOA. I apologize for Mr. Papp’s inept and insulting comparison, but believe he has made a point. I am happy he brought everyone’s attention to this issue.

  3. I grew up in New Canaan, and was a business owner for there for22 years and now live in Wilton. I currently own a fitness business in Seymour CT.

    Most in New Canaan won’t even know where Seymour is. The Connecticut Valley or RT 8 corridor in many ways is lower Fairfield County 40-50 years ago. “The Valley” mostly consists of folks New Canaanites would consider average. The median income is $60,ooo, but many move to the “Valley” as a more affordable area. Oxford, CT which is next store to Seymour is the fastest growing town in Connecticut. Some come from lower Fairfield County seeking affordability and a time that has past towns like New Canaan by.

    What strikes me most is that folks in these communities actually support local business. They live here, they work here and they spend their money here. They do not vacation in Colorado, or the Turks and Caico’s; they go to the Cape, they go to Vermont and they stay home. There are electricians, town workers, civil servents, entrepreneurs, and executives all living together in the same community.

    With this diversity is tolerance, kindness, and compassion for others, most still are conservative politically. Politicians here in “the Valley” are concerned with transforming what was mostly and industrial economy to a more service and manufacturing based economy. Leaders understand that small entrepreneurial business is a key along with attracting larger manufacturing operations (Tulle is in Seymour) .

    Their next concern is housing for the folks that work in these businesses. They understand that housing most meet the needs of the workforce, and they understand that that development further creates jobs and stimulates their local economies. They provide that leadership and promote dialogue to reach those goals.

    I loved New Canaan, I understand things change, but gee wilikers when one of New Canaan’s largest concerns is weeds outside a bank building, isn’t something dramatically wrong? The Town is gorgeous and folks still aren’t satisfied. The standard is perfection. Perfection with EVERYTHING. Perfection with the job you have, the car you dive, and the children that “need” to be the best of the best. Now too, the Town must “look” perfect.

    Problem is: nothing is ever perfect. I fear that perfection will be the downfall of a Town I once adored; I sure wish folks would venture outside their fishbowl and see how the rest of the world lives and just be grateful and be thankful for all that they have. There would be less dug addiction, less depression, less domestic violence, just less stress and perhaps instead of being “perfect” all could just be happy.

  4. I appreciate the comments here and I must say that it was not my intention in writing this article and headline to generate a thread that was critical of Mr. Papp, though I understand why it has happened. Not my role to criticize or defend a public official making a rather offhand remark at a public meeting. I will note that Mr. Papp (and others) spoke at length about the matter of the neglected property out front of the bank, and his reference to Somalia was a single sentence uttered among many others on the subject, and it was my job in writing the article to bring that across—not sure I have succeeded, so I wanted to post this comment.

  5. UPDATE: We heard back from Bank of America. Spokesperson TJ Crawford tells us that under the bank’s contract with the landlord, the owner of the property—J. Elliott Smith Holdings LLC—is responsible for keeping up the landscaping. We have updated the article.

  6. I, too, grew up in New Canaan. In fact, I was the next door neighbor of Glen Hutchinson who commented above. I agree that it sounds like current New Canaanites have lost touch with reality. This is worthy of an uproar? You have whole towns leveled by tornadoes in the middle of the country and a messy planter is newsworthy? To the extent that the only way to adequately describe the horror is with a reference to some kind of imagined third world scenario? This is truly eyeroll-worthy.

    It reminds me of a day when I worked at New Canaan Mounted Troop when I came around a corner to see a cadet standing by as his family’s maid swept the barn aisle for him. “The beginning of the end,” I told myself. I moved a few months later.

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