I have struggled with mixed feelings – even cognitive dissonance – regarding Waveny’s Oenoke Ridge proposal, and now the period for public comment to the P&Z Commission has come and gone.
My wife and I are New Canaan seniors, having lived here for 31 years, and recognize the need for housing units of the type and volume proposed as a way to keep more seniors living in town. We also greatly admire Waveny LifeCare Network and its work, believe that Waveny is well placed to undertake a project like this and thereby complete its service continuum, and understand how difficult it has proven to find a suitable location to build such a large structure.
We are not neighbors of the proposed location. However, I drive to town almost every day along Oenoke Ridge: a gateway to downtown from the north of New Canaan, Pound Ridge and beyond. A structure of the size that has been proposed would greatly alter the charm of the stretch between Parade Hill and God’s Acre that is characterized by open space (Nature Center, Historical Society campus, the lawns of the Presbyterian Church and St. Mark’s) as well as the generous setbacks of the Roger Sherman Inn, former Maples’ Inn buildings and other residences from the road. The transformation at night would be even more dramatic.
What troubles me more, though, is how divisive this issue has become in the community. I have attended meetings, talked to numerous people and read many letters – the proposed location is just so contentious. Waveny was founded on the goodwill and generosity of New Canaanites and, as a non-profit, it continues to depend on that goodwill and generosity to operate in a financially sound manner. This is Waveny’s most important asset and needs to be protected above all.
I can relate to the commissioners’ personal dilemma as responsible citizens. Logically they should apply the same judgement in this instance as they applied when denying the application to redevelop the Roger Sherman property a few years ago. Here we have a rezoning application in the same zone in the same road but even nearer to God’s Acre and the downtown, and with a density that is multiples of the denied Roger Sherman application. Precedent surely matters. Yet the commissioners are residents who also understand the housing needs of an aging population.
I am fearful of the consequences of possible approval of this application, and that goes beyond the specter of a drawn-out legal battle. The wonderful Waveny organization may not be seen in the same light going forward by a significant segment of the population, including the many who have signed petitions. Many people simply do not seem to buy the argument that all the alternative sites suggested, have been thoroughly considered and are not viable.
I therefore appeal to the Waveny board to protect the “brand value” built up over decades and withdraw the application to save the Commission the agony of having to make an invidious decision or, at the very least, ask the Commission to suspend consideration of it while alternative locations are thoughtfully reevaluated. With the right approach, and a proposal that garners widespread community support, we can find a solution.