Letter: Proposed Retirement Complex on Oenoke Ridge a Threat to ‘Small-Town Rural Feeling’

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New Canaan needs more housing for senior citizens who wish to “downsize” and remain in New Canaan. However, the question is where should it be permitted and built such that it is affordable and does not detract from New Canaan’s small-town charm?

The 70-unit retirement complex which Waveny LifeCare Network proposes to build at 65 Oenoke Ridge is simply too large for the site, and will destroy the small-town rural feeling that the present zoning and Historic District designation has created as one drives into New Canaan from the north. As a member of the New Canaan Historic Society, I object strongly to the visual impact the proposed center will have on the campus of the Historical Society. As a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, I do not want a huge housing complex looming over the Great Lawn. Will the residents object to the noise and commotion of the May Fair? As a member of the Board of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, I further do not want to see a spot zoning variance that will forever change the entrance to New Canaan’s village center from the north. 

In January 2018, I was invited to lunch by Pat Stoddard and Barb Achenbaum of Staying Put to discuss possible senior housing at the site of the Historical Society’s “Yellow House”. The proposal was then for perhaps as many as a dozen townhouse style apartments, with community dining and concierge service. This sounded like a good plan, and I was prepared to help move the project forward. I suggested that Staying Put and Waveny LifeCare approach the Historical Society and offer a 99-year lease for the property. We were advised that the donor of the Yellow House had put a deed restriction on the property that limited its use to “historical education.” Has that deed restriction now been changed or eliminated? 

The project has morphed from townhouses for a limited number of seniors, to a full-scale Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), complete with a bistro-bar restaurant, 120-seat theater, meeting rooms, gym, indoor swimming pool, and underground parking. Does an in-town complex really need all the amenities when we have many restaurants; a movie theater; meeting rooms at the Historical Society, Town Hall, Library, St. Marks and Nature Center nearby; and a pool and gym at the YMCA – all easily accessible by the GetAbout service?

This type of complex (like Meadow Ridge) should be built on a much larger parcel of land where the facilities can be spread out in a campus-like setting. I would rather see a zoning variance in the four-acre zone, or on an in-town side street, off a main thoroughfare into New Canaan, than see the proposed complex crammed into a tiny parcel, and forever change the rural and historical aspect of the north entrance into the Town Center. 

The proposal to build six houses on the site of the Roger Sherman Inn was denied by P&Z after much public discussion. I hope that the Commission will likewise deny the Waveny Care proposal as presented. 

Respectfully Yours,

G. Warfield “Skip” Hobbs

16 thoughts on “Letter: Proposed Retirement Complex on Oenoke Ridge a Threat to ‘Small-Town Rural Feeling’

  1. I totally agree with Skip’s assessment here. A large complex like the one being planned is just too large and commercial for that lot and would forever destroy the charming character of Oenoke Ridge and the entryway into New Canaan. There have to be other spots in town that would be better suited for this large development. Perhaps land off Lapham Rd behind Waveny near the pool area or one of the other land parcels we have in town could be better suited for a development of this scale. I would be happy to help on a site development committee.

  2. Skip, as I recall, you were among those who fought hardest to kill Waveny’s earlier plan for senior living facility on the very land your letter now proposes as “better suited ” for this use.

  3. Public discord and discussion around topics of interest is both necessary and healthy. Especially when the topic is one of universally accepted need: Senior Housing.

    We have spent decades here in New Canaan discussing the need for Senior friendly housing that would allow long-time residents and aging family members of current residents to age in town and remain vital members of our community. If put to a vote, it is my guess that 90% + of residents would agree that Senior Housing is a high-priority community need.

    Much like the subject of Cell Phone Coverage, the answer to an identified community need ultimately involves finding a solution. And once the people dedicated to researching, exploring, calculating and identifying the best solution come forward to the public, inevitably there are voices of opposition. The NIMBY effect (Not in My Back Yard) is alive and well.

    News Flash – no matter the issue – Senior Housing or Cell Phone Towers – the solution is ultimately going to be near someone’s back yard.

    In the case of the proposed Waveny LifeCare Network’s proposed CCRC, the identified site has many positive attributes, including:
    1) it is contiguous to another Waveny LifeCare property – The Inn – an independent living retirement community.
    2) the identified property on Oenoke is in close proximity to downtown New Canaan – a key attraction to most seniors.
    3) the identified property is fairly isolated from any abutting residential properties.
    4) the Architects engaged for this project took great efforts to ensure the proposed buildings style would blend in with New Canaan’s traditional New England architecture in that neighborhood.
    5) the planners have listened to Seniors in our community and diligently worked to incorporate the vast majority of their identified needs into this plan.
    6) Waveny LifeCare Network, a local, vibrant non-profit is behind this development. This is not some large out-of-town developer or some for-profit corporation looking to capitalize on the latest trends. These are folks who have a vested interest in helping to make New Canaan the very best it can be.

    I had to smile when Dawn Sterner offered up the property off Lapham Road behind Waveny near the town pool ….. we’ve been there and done that. No thanks.

    Will we ever find the PERFECT location in New Canaan for a high quality Senior Housing development that satisfies 100% of potential senior resident’s needs AND 100% of all community residents? Perhaps not. But this site on Oenoke, and the proposed building with its amenities, is darn close and should receive the town’s full support.

  4. Agreed! Let’s keep the focus on adding senior-friendly housing, not duplicating recreational and social resources that already exist in town. This building proposal is not consistent with maintaining a vibrant intergenerational community.

    I get that people might not want to bundle up in winter and get in the van to go out, especially as they age, but sacrificing our geographical and architectural heritage is a tradeoff too dear for helping people avoid New England weather.

    Dawn: the idea of building a CCRC on public land has been brought up time and time again, and if anything, the desire to protect open space is — thankfully — stronger than ever. No no no to building on public lands!

  5. Leo Karl is correct in his comment to Dawn Sterner. In 2009 a group of concerned residents formed when a CCRC was being suggested in Waveny Park. The AG’s office concurred that it was not permissible under the deed restrictions.

  6. In March my 98 year old father moved to the new Residence at Sellecks Woods in Darien. After living at Darien Atria for seven years. He was happy at Atria and is quite happy at the new Residence. It has all the luxuries being discussed for a New Canaan development and has memory care. It is only 15 minutes away. My experience of the seniors at both these residences is that access to “downtown” is no longer very important as they age. The seniors who still drive are independent to go where they want. Other seniors have access to the residence transportation. Mostly what they want is the comfort and safety that a senior residence offers and tend to stay within that safe environment with the staff they come to trust.

    The Residence at Sellecks Woods is owned by LCB Senior Living, a developer/operator and third-party manager of senior housing communities throughout New England. They have residences in Stamford, Darien and soon to be completed in Westport. With Maplewood and Atria in Darien, there are a lot of choices in the area already that will be competition. Something to keep in mind.

    The initial report of a development on Oenoke Ridge explained that “residents would pay a lump sum of $750,000 or $850,000… in addition to an all-inclusive monthly fee of $4,500.” For our family we found that model of senior living finances a poor investment. We chose a model that allowed us to invest the funds from the sale of his house and use that to pay the monthly rent of the apartment. Each family has to decide what is best for them.

    Personally, I don’t want to see a looming structure so close to town. I don’t see the need for it when there are so many luxury senior housing developments in the area which have a track record of successful management.

    • I appreciate the careful analysis that Regina Hair has given this issue and that her analysis is based on both knowledge of and experience with the matter. I also think that the proposed location is very inappropriate for such a large community. Waveny LifeCare Network has its challenging missions as it is and they should continue to focus on them.

      • Totally agree.
        Post Rd and Ledge Rd are quite a bit different locations from Oenoke between the Historical Society and Saint Mark’s and adjacent to, if not within, our Historic District.
        Isn’t that one of the New Canaan’s pluses….we don’t have Rte 1 running through our town, and we don’t have exits off of 95? Darien, Stamford and Westport do, and those locations are prime to accommodate these independent villages for seniors.
        Again though, how would New Canaan residents be prioritized?

  7. I agree with Skip somehow lost in this discussion is the COST to seniors to move to this new facility. While the town needs more senior housing, perhaps not all seniors are willing to pay the upfront fee plus monthly costs. The fact that they are putting a dense 70 units in a relatively small space just doesn’t suit our town’s current look. Waveny needs to reconsider it’s strategic plan.

  8. This project sounds like a luxury condominium complex. The phrase ‘senior housing’ gives us warm fuzzy feelings, but this project will only benefit those rich enough to afford the $750,000 up front fee and $4500 monthly payments for the rest of their lives, on top of the rest of their living expenses. How does this help? Many of New Canaan’s seniors currently retire and downsize to New Canaan’s existing condo complexes, many of which are within walking distance of town – without an uphill climb for the return trip. If they want a restaurant, they pick one in town. Will this complex have any subsidized units for seniors who didn’t marry a top executive or lawyer to amass such wealth, but who would still like to stay in town? I have the impression that most people live a lot closer to their paychecks and can’t save anything like that kind of money during their careers.

    A similar problem exists for assisted living places. When the time comes that one needs assisted living, one needs an upfront payment from the sale of an expensive house, plus additional super-wealth for the high monthly fees. I heard of one subsidized assisted living place in Massachusetts. Does our area have any place for our good citizens who aren’t so wealthy?

    Builders seem to like to build expensive, luxury places. The current housing market reputedly has a shortage of houses for sale at affordable prices and a surplus of expensive homes, relative to demand. This project is another expensive, luxury complex. The proposal leaves me saddened, because it will do nothing to help seniors who’d like to stay in New Canaan, its purported purpose, except those rich enough to already have housing options.

  9. From the comments provided, there are a lot of misconceptions about this project regarding loom, siting of the project and the real need that exists for additional senior housing right here in New Canaan. Many of our aging residents want to remain in New Canaan, but have been forced to move elsewhere due to a lack of options. Our community only benefits by proving opportunities for our current residents to continue to reside right here in New Canaan as they age and their needs change. There will be many presentations open to the public to get real facts and more detailed information about the project. I hope that all our residents will all keep an open mind as we all learn more details about the project.

    • I agree that the size, location and “buy in” cost of this development make it unattractive as a way to expand senior living options. Let’s find an alternative to the plan….and keep New Canaans historic district in tact, while providing options to senior of ALL economic classes, not simply the rich.

  10. I met residents of the Darien Atria who had been moved there from other states by their children. Families in Darien and Greenwich want their mothers to be near them. A lovely thing to do, and likely will be a source of residents in a New Canaan senior home also. So keep in mind what we do here for our seniors isn’t just for them. It will take a lot of residents to fill 70 units.

  11. I have written several times about the lack of good judgment in trying to get this adult apartment building located on Oenoke Ridge Road! This location is 1.5 acres for a massive building in a historic area. It is the wrong location and ruins our quaint historic town. My question is why, why on Oenoke Ridge? Please find a place that works for the town not ruins it. Remember, 1500 New Canaan residents have already protested this location! Please really look at the negative ramifications of this site.

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