NewCanaanite.com received the following letters to the editor.
On February 22nd, 2021, I wrote to the Board of Selectmen, saying that when the Planning and Zoning Commission held its public hearings on the new library, I would have a plan ready to present, which would show the 1913 building remaining in its current place, working harmoniously with the new library building.
I do have that plan ready, but I am making a few adjustments to it based on observations and input from members of the Board of Selectmen and Town Council. But, before finalizing and releasing it, and then describing my own “Saving 1913” Library Plan, I have evaluated the new library’s own “Town Green” plan, a copy of which is attached. In my opinion, it is a profoundly, and fundamentally, flawed plan in many respects, just as is, with or without any attempt to retain any portion of the current 1913 library building. My observations and evaluation are described below.
For months, going on years now, the much-trumpeted “Town Green” has been promoted, with misleading images presented of it, and with enormously exaggerated claims made about what can occur on it.
It is nothing more than an amorphous area of lawn, not three-quarters of an acre as the library administration has repeatedly been claiming, but, in fact, it is only less than one-third of an acre in size. It is not remotely big enough, nor is it well-suited to the multitude of grand events that the library administration has been predicting will be held there.
The architectural renderings and illustrations, and especially the “bird-eye view”, have been, and continue to be, seriously misleading. Skilled architects with sophisticated computers can readily eye-wash audiences with fudged bird-eye views, and fancy videos these days, and such has been the case here.
The numerous presentations by the library administration over the years, have never been when real drawings were available to the public, so no one could ever fact check anything that was being claimed.
Well now, finally, real, cold statistics are coming from the architect’s office and the reality of what is being proposed versus what has been, and continues to be said, about the project by the library administration, reveals enormous disparities.
On the north side of the “Town Green”, almost one quarter of what looks like grass in the architectural illustrations, is a swampy detention basin fed by a 12” pipe, just 8’ from the edge of the “Town Green”, bringing large quantities of roof drainage water right to the “Town Green” area. This regularly flooding area, complete with standing water and plants like Tussock Sedge, with its wetland cousins, was described by the architect as a “landscape feature”, but it is a feature which belongs, more appropriately, in the outer reaches of the Nature Center’s wetlands. Representing it as being part of the Town Green and implying that it is useable lawn is highly misleading and irresponsible. It would be a man-made wetland and with its standing water, it will become prime territory for frogs and West Nile Virus mosquitoes and become an attractive nuisance and end up being required to be fenced off. See the attached September 23, 2019 memorandum from the New Canaan Department of Health regarding West Nile Virus.
Also, on the north side of the “Town Green” along Routes 124 and 106, a high maintenance, undesirable, and hugely expensive, new sitting area is being proposed. No one will want to sit there looking at backed-up traffic at the Cherry Street and Main Street light. The town will end up maintaining it for a while and then, in all probability, tearing it out.
On its west side, there is a fully landscaped area, so dense that it precludes even a decent-sized lawn mower from being driven onto the big lawn from the nearby library service area, let alone a vehicle to put up a tent or drop off seating for a concert or a stage.
On its east side, along Main Street, there is a new, even larger, landscaped area, described by the architects as a future “Wildlife Area”. It seems that this has been deliberately positioned, on top of the footprint of the 1913 building, and its front lawn areas. This area will rapidly become overgrown and unkept in a prime, historic location right on Main Street. It is proposed solely for the purpose of taking the 1913 building “out of the view” of the new library building as the chairman of the library trustees has described it. There are so many trees and shrubs planned for the area that, when they are in leaf, even the new library building itself will barely be visible from Main Street. That area will turn into a much greater “eyesore” than the 1913 building, which the library chairman claims 1913 is today.
On its south side, the easy flow of people moving between the new library building, and its new “Green” is heavily, and unnecessarily, encumbered by a 60’ long wall and yet another mosquito-breeding swamp type detention area right next to the new library itself.
The actual lawn area is sloping down towards its swampy detention basin, and it is configured in such a manner, both vertically and horizontally, that it is unsuitable for the many “staged events” suggested for it. As currently designed, there is no vehicular access route onto the “Town Green” from anywhere. Three oaks which would develop into extremely large trees are proposed for the lawn area and they would further hinder its use for events. It has repeatedly been characterized as a destination for the “Summer Theatre.” It is completely unsuitable for that, for numerous reasons.
In summary, all along, the “Town Green” concept has long been glamorized, and over-marketed, as a desirable alternative to the 1913 building. In fact, it turns out to be a contorted plan specifically fabricated for the purpose of justifying removal of 1913 from its present location. It is dysfunctional, much smaller than described, inaccessible, with unhealthy, above ground, storm water detention systems, with standing water, right in the center of town, and within a few feet of a proposed “Town Green” and the new library building itself. Such site planning is the height of irresponsibility.
My ”Saving 1913” Library Plan will have none of these problems. It will be keeping the entire 1913 building in place, with its gallery, and its familiar front lawns, with a usable, fully accessible, level lawn on the west side, with no swamps, no wastage on sitting areas out on the State highway, vehicular handicap access to both the 1913 building and the new library and many other appropriate features which will be described fully.
It will be ready for publication the week of April 11.
The 1913 library building seems to have a lot of emotional fans. Here are some other things it has:
Lead. Asbestos. No ADA compliance. A four million dollar price tag to bring 1,300 square feet up to code.
It’s time we stop confusing nostalgia with civic responsibility. I have some beautiful memories of the library building in the California town where I grew up. That said, I can’t imagine having the gall to write the government of a town where I haven’t lived in decades and tell them what to do with a building I no longer use. And so, when Orinda built a brand-new library, I stayed out of it.
As presented to the Planning & Zoning Committee on March 31st, the beautiful new library building is a much-needed upgrade that suits current New Canaan residents and our families’ needs.
Think of it as a space that becomes what each person needs it to be: a town green for meeting friends, flexible co-working space for small businesses, a state-of-the-art classroom, a child’s discovery garden, a place to learn how to cook, and a maker lab. It’s a place for New Canaanites to make, think, learn, serve and do.
The old library once fulfilled that promise. It no longer does, and it’s okay to let go.
I’m thrilled that New Canaan will have an authentic cultural magnet at the center of town, available for free, for anyone to use, in the spirit of walking into a building and walking out a better person.
As much as we’re all drawn to look fondly at our own memories of town buildings, the single best way to honor New Canaan’s legacy is to keep creating in New Canaan.
The new library is a monument—not just to what New Canaan has done to get to this point—but to what we’ll create together in the centuries to come. It will be a magnet for new families moving here, give our town center a vibrant, welcoming focal point, and create a visible commitment to education and the pursuit of truth. This is what libraries mean. And while architectural preservation certainly has its place in any centuries-old town, so, too, does progress.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait to sit down in this new building, take out my laptop, and get started.
Laura Mulloy Ault
Proud New Canaan resident since 2014
The following comments are in response to the March 30th Planning and Zoning meeting which was covered in an April 5th NewCanaanite article.
It should be noted that the purchase of 48 South Avenue, which was stated to be what facilitated the current library plan sans 1913, was made possible by an almost half-million dollar check from the Town of New Canaan for a highly over-priced property owned by a former Library board president.
As with so many statements by the Library, their statement that they have several estimates for the cost to keep the 1913 building on site (which for some puzzling reason means relocate and rebuild), has limited documentation. There has been only one estimate produced for this. It has been reviewed by experienced preservationists and many of the supposedly necessary costs proven unnecessary. This new hazardous materials alarm is an issue which, if it exists (again where is the documentation?), is more of an issue for demolition than for preservation.
Along this same vein are the supposedly numerous iterations of designs for a new library which retain the 1913 library. These have yet to be presented although they have been requested by individual citizens. The ability for the library to add onto its existing building (the most environmentally and financially prudent approach) seems to have been lost over the years as all previous additions managed to do so and the current architects have actually figured it out for other clients in the past as well.
One might say that these architects also cannot figure out how to include on site parking, but after puzzling for over a year as to why the back of the new library faces the highly lauded green, one realizes that the main entrance directly faces, and has always directly faced, the Center School Lot. “Ah ha” the architects must have said to the library very early on, “why loose your valuable property for onsite parking, when there’s all this parking available right across the street! Let’s go ahead and orient your main entrance toward that lot, fein a design which includes underground parking (but don’t talk about it publicly because it is un-affordably expensive), and when that inevitably fails, you can throw up your hands, say you tried, and the town will just give you that lot. The added plus is you will then control almost a block and a half of downtown New Canaan property.”
One of the most puzzling repeated pitches during the Library’s presentation (briefly mentioned in the NewCanaanite article) was this supposed need for “wildlife” in downtown New Canaan. I cannot imagine that the folks in town who post on social media alarming images of coyotes, bears, and bobcats, are hoping to have such sightings on the corner of Main and Cherry. Also, now we know we will be thankful to the Library for the closing of the until now unknown threat of the supposed gap in the Pollinator Path that is downtown New Canaan. The hillside forest that is being created along Main Street, along with the wetlands along Cherry, are items I don’t recall being requested by the citizenry and appear completely out of place—along with a lawn completely enclosed by these barriers. Imagine what the ticket price was to re-design that supposed “wonderland” over the past year! Imagine what it will cost to create it, and then to maintain it! Why, if the library knew there was opposition to creating a green in place of the 1913 library did they throw so much money into going further down the road toward obliterating something so many residents and even their own focus groups wanted to preserve?
The library mentioned making an offer to give the 1913 building (really just the front two rooms, not all of the original building) to the New Canaan Preservation Alliance—if they would move it and rebuild it “somewhere else” (ie, the Center School lot), pay for this absurd project, and forever hold their peace as a form of gratitude for being “thrown a bone.” The offer was made, not just to the “preservationists,” but to all on the Friends of Our 1913 Library Committee, a diverse group which includes architects, landscape architects, engineers, preservationists, town planners, financiers, scientists, real estate brokers, former Planning & Zoning officials, and many other walks of life. The resounding response was “no,” based as much on it being fiscally irresponsible, as it was on it being counter to established and accepted preservation standards.
Finally, just so you know, the definition of a library is “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.” There is nothing in the definition about a library being a community center. Nothing about yoga, or cooking classes, or cafés, although these are all nice things and typically are or can be provided elsewhere—if necessary. We currently have a great place for books, etc, (minus the huge quantities of books the library has culled over recent years), a place that was scaled for the intimate, personal main purpose of a library, and furthermore scaled for a town like New Canaan. Sure, we could probably use an improved auditorium for the thousand of presentations the library says it gives during the course of a year, but that could have been added to the existing structure. Thing is, according to the 2012 “Municipal and Public Use Facilities Master Plan” (which incidentally has a photo of the 1913 library on the front), the current Lamb Room has a capacity for 300-plus but unfortunately has a level (not-sloping) floor. Wait, doesn’t the new library’s auditorium have a capacity for 300-plus with a level floor?
Library leaders and their architects figured out how to add to the existing building in a respectful and economical manner in the past. Surely we have not lost that skill, nor that respect for our past and our environment, nor that Yankee mentality to reuse and repurpose what we have.
Rose Scott Long Rothbart
Member Board of Directors
New Canaan Preservation Alliance
I am reaching out in reference to recent presentations made regarding SB 1024, which was proposed by “Desegregate CT.” This bill includes a ‘Transit Oriented Development’ component, which will require each town with a Transit Station to pick one station and designate a minimum of 50% of the lots with in a ½ mile circle of a station for high density development, regardless of the current zoning regulations. This bill would allow for a minimum of 2-4 units per lot, but does not indicate on what size property. In section 6, lines 438-443 of the bill states that a minimum density 15 units per acre shall apply, without any parking requirements.
Some of the proponents of this bill have downplayed its impact and stated that this bill will not likely apply to New Canaan since the property lot sizes seem much smaller than 1-acre in the ½ mile TOD. New Canaan presently has over 50+ parcels in the ½ mile circle that are 1+ acre zoning, and if those parcels are part of the TOD the minimum required density will be 15+ units per acre. While we have numerous apartments, townhouses, condos, co-ops, within the ½ mile radius none presently meet the high-density requirements of SB 1024. This would result in a profound increase of 1000’s of units in New Canaan.
A proponent of the bill gave as an example a hypothetical 4-acre plot and how it can be subdivided, creating 4 separate 1-acre parcels, each requiring of minimum of 15+ units. This density would not only impact our sewage treatment facility, but also traffic, schools, and leave approximately 9,000 vehicles without designated parking areas to impact downtown.
The goal of this bill as explained by its proponents is to lower the price of housing throughout CT and enable more affordable housing. But the plan is ill conceived and deflects the financial responsibility and the impact it will cause to the towns throughout Connecticut. This bill proposes a mandatory change in local zoning without the input or control of the Town and without any consideration of the financial impact that is imposed on the municipality. New Canaan will need to upgrade infrastructure at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. This bill will create a most profound change in the character of our town. It will also take zoning control away from New Canaan’s Planning & Zoning Commission by imposing an “As-of-Right” development rule.
The concerns are multifaceted but the time to act is now as a vote is scheduled for April 5th, 2021. I ask that you contact your State Representative and your State Senators to voice your concerns and request that they vote NO to bill SB1024.
‘As-of-right’ by definition is ‘Entitlement of the owner of property to use or develop it, without recourse to a public hearing process or a vote of municipal council, if the proposed use accords with the zoning by-laws.’
Twelve bills will be before the house and senate in Connecticut in the few days ahead, and the character of our town will change forever should these bills pass. These bills will take the authority over these matters from the town. Developers will be given full carte blanche to create their visions within 1/2 mile radius from either train station, without regard to New Canaan’s infrastructure, parking needs, open space, roads or their affect on adjacent properties.
A proponent of SB 1024 stated that New Canaan has enough parking already and that no one will be using cars in the future, therefore, we must plan accordingly into the future. The question is what do we do in the meantime with the reality of parking, or if these visions don’t materialize?
I don’t want to see Hartford take the rights of our local Planning & Zoning Commission, or the opportunity to voice either support or concerns. What I find most troubling is the top down approach from Hartford and their unwillingness to have any of the town’s input and oversight.
The bills focus on devaluating real estate by the overdevelopment of multi family units. Overcrowding in our downtown will have serious effects town wide, and on the overall character of our town. Or what impact will it have on restaurants as parking becomes unavailable due to overcrowding. Many of New Canaan’s main arteries or even cul-de-sacs are not wide enough to allow on-street parking. Some roads are so narrow, that any parking becomes a greater hazard to pedestrians, bikers, etc.
Furthermore, there’s a proposal to have public hearings as it pertains to discussion on pending new zoning language provided by an appointed committee of state bureaucrats onto local or regional P & Z’s. No longer will any neighbor be able to make public comment on a specific As-Of- Right project, like a multifamily 15+ unit project next door. These are provisions in the legislation that absolutely take away local decision making and rights to a public hearing on zoning.
Furthermore, some of the zoning bills even state that should any local P & Z provision differ from the state legislation the local ruling is automatically null and void. It is a set of bills that will impact us all. I encourage everyone to read them and study how the investment in your home will be impacted. Expect depreciation in value while you’re driving around trying to find a parking space. I urge everyone to reach out to your State Representative, State Senator, and the Governor to have them vote NO and stop these bills from moving forward.
Referencing Bills: SB-1024, HB-6107, HB-6611, HB-6612, HB-6613, SB-1026, SB-1027, SB1-66, SB-1068, SB-8-4, HB-6570, SB-172, SB-1.
Cristina A. Ross, AIA
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