Letter to the Editor


NewCanaanite.com recently received the following letter. Emails letters to editor@newcanaanite.com to have them published here.


Letter to the Editor:

Our First Selectwoman stated at a recent meeting of the Town Council Ordinance subcommittee that the Town can’t afford to pay for the snow removal and liability costs of the town’s sidewalks anymore and wants the subcommittee to change the ordinance so that the cost of both snow removal and liability falls on abutting homeowners. Intended or not, it would be a bait and switch. Here’s the background:

In 2008, the Town Council and Board of Selectman decided to push to change the character of New Canaan from a paths-and-lanes type town to a public-sidewalk walking town, and so encouraged the installation of new sidewalks.

A highly contentious town discussion took place. At that time, most of New Canaan’s downtown roads were in disrepair. Many residents argued that adding sidewalks was a costly, needless luxury, and that town resources would be better used fixing the roads, instead. The Selectmen and Town Council were not to be denied, so, knowing there were adequate signatures to force a referendum on the sidewalk issue, the Town changed the ordinance and made the snow removal and all responsibility for the public sidewalks the responsibility of the Town. They also bonded an enormous road repair effort.  Even with that pot-sweetening, 3,329 New Canaan residents cast their votes on the sidewalk referendum, which the pro-sidewalk side narrowly won, 1,788 to 1,541.  To put the total number of votes in perspective, 3,742 were cast for the Irwin Estate purchase, and that had a $20 million price tag attached to it.

Once the lower Main St sidewalks were installed, sidewalks to Kiwanis Park were added.  After the purchase of the Irwin estate, sidewalks were extended to connect Kiwanis Park to Irwin Park.

The 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development continued to emphasize the walking-town, sidewalk-intensive goals, as does the 2024 Draft.

That’s the background. Now our First Selectwoman wants to push the burden of snow removal on the abutting homeowners (whose total number is still unconfirmed) rather than having all residents shoulder them—even though the new sidewalks that have been installed are supposed to benefit all town’s residents. (Notably, many of the abutting homeowners voted against the sidewalks in the first place.)

Further, a significant portion of the sidewalks have been added in the South School district area.  The First Selectwoman is effectively saying that these South School district area homeowners should shoulder additional snow removal and liability costs so that the whole town can enjoy the sidewalks. This seems extremely unfair.

Several council members mentioned, during the meeting, that similar towns in the area all have abutting homeowners maintain the sidewalks.  But how many of those towns made a policy decision to install more sidewalks, and took on the snow removal and liability in order to get the sidewalks approved and installed in the first place?

New Canaan should not install one more inch of sidewalk until this issue has been resolved.  In addition, the BOF should review the POCD to identify the costs of more sidewalks and any other items that the P&Z POCD subcommittee thinks might be good for us, but only at certain residents’ expense.

Neele Stichnoth

7 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor

  1. Thank you for providing the background information about installation of new sidewalks and Town’s responsibility for its maintenance. Several commenters may not the history behind the current ordinance.

  2. Letter to the Editor:

    I will couch my commentary by saying that it’s not directly aimed at Neele. Instead, it’s a general observation about the seemingly strong opinions that have surfaced about residents taking on the responsibility of snow removal in certain parts of town. While I appreciate Neele’s thorough historical context as it helped me better understand the root of the issue, I can’t help but think that unfortunately, situations change. Regardless of the catalyst (I’ll remove the snow if you agree to my adding more sidewalks), the town committed itself to this solve almost 15 years ago. A lot happens in 15 years.

    I’ve lived in four towns in Fairfield County over a period of 20+ years including Darien, Fairfield and Greenwich. I’ve never heard of or witnessed a town taking ownership for removing snow from homeowners’ abutting sidewalks. In my opinion, this is an outlandish luxury and a complete waste of money. I’m hard pressed to understand how removing snow from a sidewalk is considered an expense or a “burden.” I’m sure many people don’t necessarily feel like shoveling but it’s a responsibility that comes with home or property ownership. It’s also helpful to note that we don’t live in Alaska. Snowfall these days is a fraction of what it used to be (even when compared to 15 years ago). If someone isn’t able to manage the responsibility due to physical or economic limitations, I know there are many young people in town who are looking to earn quick pocket money (or will even do it for free). It’s also a great way to engender entrepreneurial spirit – I’ve encountered many kids over the years who walk from house to house with their shovels ready.

    In general, I think people have to pick their battles and put things in perspective. While I know it may be a frustrating issue for those who remember the contention associated with the installation of sidewalks and the resulting concessions, I would much rather the town spend its time and money on needed services and resources. Snow removal from sidewalks abutting homeowners’ property doesn’t fall into either category. I’m also going to guess that there are a handful of people who not only expect the service but complain if it’s not done in what they consider, a timely fashion which surely elicits an eye roll.

    Instead of putting a stake in the ground about holding the town accountable for an agreement made almost 15 years ago, I encourage others to use their voice for more important matters affecting the town and the greater good.

    Anne Beaurline

    • Anne, these all seem like very reasonable points and your personal experience certainly appears in line with almost all of the towns in CT. I am always curious why people present examples from select towns hundreds of miles away instead of considering neighboring towns that likely have more similar circumstances than ours.

      In addition, I might add that sidewalks likely increase a home’s desirability and value. Homes that are in the town’s sidewalk network are often advertised as “Walk to Town” by agents and brokers. In town homes also appear to command higher prices on a per square foot basis than homes that do not have the same access or walkability. The independence it provides for children and their parents is also a great thing. Kids can meet their friends in town or go to a friend’s home without being constantly chauffeured around by parents.

      If you are fortunate enough to have a sidewalk, please appreciate the benefits you have received and understand that times and priorities do change after 15 years. Hopefully, those who are against this ordinance change will find that their sidewalks are worth shoveling snow a few times a year or paying our more industrious kids in town to do so.

  3. Sidewalks in the vicinity of businesses or schools should not be looked at as a burden but rather a safety issue for our patrons and students respectively. I moved to New Canaan 15 years ago so I appreciate the history lesson in this article. I like that the First Selectwoman is safety focused AND budget focused. I appreciate that she is bringing fiscal responsibility back in our budget.

  4. Thank you Neele: I agree. Firstly this is a dis honest bait and switch. Without the “Town would bare the burden” the referendum would not have passed. So does this back stabbing of the affected residents does this render the referendum null and void.

    If the town cannot afford this small expenditure compared to the waste in our $ 170,000,000 budget perhaps they should institute competitive bidding on town contracts and not waste millions of taxpayer money on over run after over run of the town playhouse which houses a “private club”. Additionally there is much lack of transparency ie: recently the town headline showed a $2,000,000 template check from the State of CT for the playhouse. Truth: the town has yet to receive the $ 2,000,000 from the state and may never receive the funds. Why? There are many qualifications for the grant that the town does not meet especially having the state fund a private for profit club.

    I also disagree with the above comments, I find our current executive branch ( other than the D selectwomen) to lack financial operational and administrative experience and ability. Contracts are awarded without due diligence and competitive bidding. Over runs on projects are rampant and always funded and superficially challenged, if at all to the detriment of taxpayers.

    Remember, Governments do not have money, they have our money. They have a fiduciary responsible to the tax paying New Canaanites but fail. Fund rampant over-runs and fund projects to please the few over the majority.

    I am suspect of any sidewalk expansion from cost to little usage. We live in a New England rustic town. If you want to Stamfordize New Canaan perhaps a more urban setting is better for you.

    We have many parks and outdoor walking opportunities, more are not needed. I for one do not want to pay for this none essential.

    Additionally any change in the past referendum must be subject to a new referendum. Any additional sidewalks should also be subject to a referendum.

    Soon we will have a $ 200,000,000 + budget at this rate.

    I vote NO!!!

    Roy A Abramowitz

  5. In my opinion, which many may disagree with, the Town pushed these sidewalks thru, to highly reluctant homeowners, and with pronounced disagreement throughout the town not just from the affected homeowners, promising to maintain them, and the Town is now attempting to renege. This is very unfair especially to older homeowners who may live in the affected area and for whom maintenance is a financial burden . The primary beneficiary of the sidewalks was school walkers. The Town should maintain them. This is not worthy of debate nor is the cost excessive.

    • I agree with you! With this context, it seems like a bait and switch—likely unintentional, but too soon all the same. And nobody’s talking about the blatant ableism of the assumption that every household with a sidewalk can physically shovel it themselves or afford to have it shoveled in time for school and walking commuters. The question of liability with icy sidewalks is thorny.

      Also, if we’re using the old “every town around us does it this way” argument, I’d like to point out: a lot of towns around us are banning gas-powered leafblowers, too. How about we copy the smart, sustainable things our neighbors do and not just the cheap ones.

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