Many residents may be surprised to learn that the Planning & Zoning Commission is still considering the Waveny application to install a massive senior living facility between the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church “great lawn” and the Historical Society. The community at large has spoken in clear opposition to this project anchored at the gateway to New Canaan and the Historic District. Consider the following:
- An online petition of New Canaan residents opposed to the development now exceeds 1,500 signatures or 22% of the households in town. The petition signatories represent a vast array of residents from the entire community, not just in the immediate neighborhood, and many of whom are prominent senior citizens.
- The impacted neighbors have submitted objections in opposition by more than 100 property owners which represents more than 70% of the surrounding properties within 500 feet of the development.
- P&Z received 90 letters and emails of which 75 of the signatories (or 83%) oppose the application. Winning an election with 83% of the votes would be a decisive mandate in any election. The consistent theme of the commentary on the petition website, at town meetings with Waveny representatives, and in letters to the P&Z Commission, is that while this project may be needed within our community, the applicant has chosen the wrong location for a building of this size and mass.
- Waveny has persisted in this application despite the objection of St. Mark’s and the unanimous vote of the St. Mark’s vestry to oppose the Waveny application. As a reminder, the New Canaan Inn exists due to the generosity of St. Mark’s who provided the land. The senior housing development is massive in size and scope and will have an enormous negative impact on St. Mark’s and its Great Lawn.
- The Plan of Conservation and Development or ‘POCD’ does address senior housing, but not in a void, as is being argued by development proponents. The POCD and Village District Design Guidelines are intended to protect residential neighborhoods from developments of inappropriate scale and intensity. For example, the POCD emphasizes the protection of open space, and the related Design Guidelines are explicit in that particular consideration should be given to the impact of developments that are adjacent to, or in close proximity, to the Historic District.
- In considering the size and scale of the project in relation to the surrounding community per the POCD, how can the Commission justify approving a development that will be the third largest building in New Canaan after the high school and Saxe Middle School, both of which sit on vastly larger parcels than the Oenoke Ridge location?
- It has been noted by several P&Z commissioners that the Waveny application would have been rejected immediately had it been submitted by any other applicant. Is this the standard that the town should establish in compromising and altering its rules and regulations that are intended to protect all property owners?
Waveny has stated that there are no other viable sites for senior housing and have touted the “if not now and here, then when?” cliché. In fact, correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the Waveny CEO admitted, “the price of [an alternative] parcel is the sole reason why we didn’t consider it for the CCRC.” This admission entirely discredits the Waveny proponents’ assertion throughout the P&Z Commission hearings that there are no other alternative sites other than Oenoke Ridge.
The application of town rules and regulations that are meant to protect property rights and our town’s distinctive character should not be changed to meet the financial wishes of special interests, even if they are supported by prominent individuals and elected officials of our government.
Moreover, the statement that there are no other viable sites is simply not true. A recent letter from Skip Hobbs to the New Canaanite cited eight viable alternative locations, many of which are owned and controlled by the Town and would have minimal impact on neighbors.
The town has the assets and resources to solve the senior housing issue that the Waveny proponents advocate. For illustrative purposes, consider the following flow chart that involves a three-way land swap (see graphic below) and provides all interested parties with a satisfactory solution.
- Step 1: Waveny purchases 65 Oenoke Ridge from the Historical Society.
- Step 2: Simultaneously, Waveny exchanges 65 and 73 Oenoke Ridge with the town for a ground lease at either (a) the 6-acre parcel located above Talmadge Hill train station in Waveny Park or (b) the parcel located adjacent to the Waveny Care Center Farm Road facility on the sloping hill below the Lapham Community Center. As part of the transaction, the town may receive rental income as part of the ground lease.
- Step 3: The town converts 65 and 73 Oenoke Ridge into a designated green park in perpetuity creating a beautiful space at the gateway to New Canaan.
- These locations could be developed without encroachment of the Waveny Park charter and would be easily connected to the existing Waveny LifeCare campus thereby providing continuity for residents and efficiencies of scale for Waveny’s operations.
- Additional locations to be considered include the property adjacent to the Schoolhouse Apartments which is already used for senior housing, as well as the Outback, Vine Cottage, properties on Pine Street, and elsewhere in town that are currently being evaluated by competing senior care operators.
- The alternative locations provide greater acreage which is consistent with comparable CCRCs. A review of 10 CCRCs in our area provided the following comparison of units per acre:
- CCRCs with less than 100 units have less than 1 unit per acre.
- Larger CCRCs have between 2 and at most 18.6 units per acre.
- The Waveny CCRC has a whopping 44 units per acre, nearly 2.5x the densest CCRC in the area.
The land swap concept was presented at a community morning coffee where a show of hands overwhelmingly supported the idea. Considering the controversy that Waveny has created in this process and the goodwill it has eroded among New Canaan residents, one would think that Waveny and elected Town leaders would embrace a solution that that works for all parties.
The land swap is a win-win for all parties concerned.