Letter: Oenoke Ridge the Wrong Location for Waveny’s Senior Housing Proposal

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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. 

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6 thoughts on “Letter: Oenoke Ridge the Wrong Location for Waveny’s Senior Housing Proposal

  1. I certainly applaud the fact that P&Z is still discussing Waveny’s application for the senior housing unit on Oenoke. There are many of us seniors and seniors to be hoping that it will be approved. I have spoken my peace in my letter to the media and P&Z and will not keep pounding my fist, saying the same thing over and over again. The folks airing the opposition’s point of view are largely made up of less than a handful of people who keep writing in multiple times to hammer their thoughts on this subject into the public’s psyche, hoping that it will appear that the whole town is against this project. Not so!
    Does anyone remember how long it took to get the public pool built in Waveny Park, which faced endless opposition, but is now embraced by the whole community? We seniors don’t have that kind of time! There is much to commend Waveny’s current application – let’s get it approved!

  2. The letter written by William Frank and Ken Saverin is excellent and provides the best land options for Waveny CCRC! The current location now being considered by P&Z should have never been considered for Oenoke Ridge. What I do not understand is why or the reason for P&Z to not listen to residents’ protests of the location!! (based on 1,500 signed petition opposed by residents) The majority is correct in this case and should win. Does the P&Z want to change an entire town for the sake of a few elderly people who want to live in a retirement hotel? Why not consider the options given in the article above and give the older residents an amazing location. A location that allows them a bucolic lifestyle and location. Going to town would be a short shuttle bus ride! No need for crossing streets or trying to climb up hills to get to town! Please listen to the majority of residents and VOTE NO!

    • Enough. Sandy, your line “Does the P&Z want to change an entire town for the sake of a few elderly people who want to live in a retirement hotel?” cannot stand without a rebuttal. I am going to guess you got to choose where you live – and I am going to guess that you would not accept someone telling you, at some point in the future, that you must move to a “bucolic lifestyle and location.” I am sorry you feel it is OK for you to tell others where they should live.

      The seniors who would call the new Oenoke property ‘home’ are your neighbors – perhaps even your relatives. As a community we owe it to our seniors to provide a variety of housing options that meet today’s needs. That includes quality Senior Independent Living options offering social opportunities, direct connections to our downtown, and most importantly, inclusion into a lifetime continuum of care. Waveny Lifecare has listened and worked for over 30 years to bring this type of housing option to our community. These residents want to thrive – they want to be connected to our community and remain active in daily life. They are not looking to be ‘put out to pasture’.

      New Canaan has needed a greater variety of senior friendly living options for decades. We have watched as some of our most vital and active citizens have moved away simply for the want of this type of housing. It is time. And I absolutely believe that the majority of residents agree.

  3. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But not their own facts.

    The supposed 1,500 signatures on a petition does not represent that 22% of New Canaan households oppose Waveny’s proposed Oenoke project. Since no one in the public has been able to see this list, one can only assume that many of those signatures represent multiple residents from the same household. There are also at least a few signatures from individuals who actually support the project and who logged on to add comments in support. Those comments were never posted.

    The reality is there has not been an offsetting signature drive to sign a petition in support of this development. Rather, there is a 30 year history of efforts to bring Senior Friendly Independent Living options to New Canaan that has meet with opposition each and every time. Meanwhile, our community has watched as a generation of active seniors – resident taxpayers, volunteers, and philanthropists – have moved out of the town they love simply for the want of appropriate housing options.

    The solution proposed above seems perfectly agreeable to the authors. Let’s have Waveny buy the parcel of property in question (outlaying their cash or taking on debt), turn it over to the town, and then lease other land from the town (adding additional cost to Waveny) ……. all the while this solution takes privately owned land OFF of the town’s property tax roll and eliminates the future property tax income the town would derive from the proposed Waveny development.

    Those who have proposed this CCRC be built on Waveny Park property were clearly not residents when that idea failed 2o some years ago. And anyone who thinks that the outcome would be different today are clearly naïve.

    Further, at a time when our town leaders are searching for every means to control costs, the addition of future property tax revenue from this 100% privately paid development, which seeks NO TOWN PROPERTY, NO TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES, and NO TOWN FUNDING, seems like a win-win for the town and its residents.

    New Canaan does not currently have any congregant Senior Independent Living options – and thus any such development will look different that the housing we are all familiar with. Housing needs evolve over time ….. and it is time that New Canaan’s housing options catch up.

    • Hi Mr. Karl – I am one of the naive folks who was not here 20 years ago 😀 (my guess is a third of the town also was not here then). I did however get a flavor of the passion regarding that discussion a few days ago at a public gathering. What I struggle with is what do we do with this issue now. Let’s say P&Z says no to the proposed project – that just leaves us with a large unmet challenge, which I expect will be followed up with multiple small projects all over town and all sorts of issues associated. If P&Z says yes I expect we will have a bunch of lawsuits – also not a great outcome for anyone. Nobody wins with either outcome.
      This is a town issue and leadership in the town needs to come forward with some solutions – leaving it to one care provider or various private entities does not appear to have worked. Each month and year that goes by without a solution does not make it any better.
      My view is the site at Waveny Park is really perfect for a large, efficient, and modern facility that can accommodate multiple economic categories and connect well with the existing Waveny infrastructure. Economic activity associated with such a development of land would be very helpful for the town, and finally addressing this issue in a meaningful way, rather than kicking the can down the road would also be helpful. But like you said I may be one of the naive ones😀.

  4. I don’t think anyone knows what the “majority” of people think. Just speaking for myself, i am very familiar with the need to increase senior-friendly housing: I was a member of the Town’s Senior Health and Housing Policy Development Team that documented the need but also came out against putting it in Waveny Park. I spoke out in favor of Mr. Karp’s apartments on Park Street because i thought that project swapped out a non-senior friendly complex for one that was built with the needs of seniors in mind. However, i am not in favor of the new Oenoke Ridge facility. I do not think that the parcel supports it, and I am moved by the opposition of its neighbor St. Mark’s Church. (I have no affiliation with the church.) If it turns out that New Canaan truly does not have any land available to build such a facility, then in my opinion, it’s time to turn towards other creative ways to fit in senior-living options, creating more of a patchwork of living spaces that reduce isolation and offer appropriate spaces (no steps, wide doors, etc.), even if we don’t offer a full solution. I have not signed any petitions, and I ask both sides not to characterize the opinions of anyone but themselves.

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