‘Merritt Village’ Unveiled: New Details, Concerns from Neighbors Emerge at First Public Hearing of Proposed Development

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In considering a dramatic proposal to create up to 123 condos and apartments in an area at the edge of downtown New Canaan where 38 now exist, the town should find out how such a project would impact other property values, officials said Tuesday.

A rendering that looks at the proposed Merritt Village complex from Park Street.

A rendering that looks at the proposed Merritt Village complex from Park Street.

Filed this month on behalf of M2 Partners, which owns a combined 3.29-acre parcel fronting Maple and Park Streets—and viewable here on the town website through a dropdown menu—plans for ‘Merritt Village’ call for four 4-floor multi-family dwellings that will include 60 townhouse-style condos and 62 midrise apartment units.

According to Planning & Zoning Commission member Tony Shizari, a question central to the project’s merit is: “What will be the impact on the market of introducing several hundred thousand square feet of additional living space?”

A rendering of a proposed common outdoor area at Merritt Village in New Canaan

A rendering of a proposed common outdoor area at Merritt Village in New Canaan

“The question goes to the impact on property values,” Shizari said during a regular meeting of P&Z, held at Town Hall.

“There are a lot of condos there—although I totally agree that we need single-floor access … But adding 90 units to what is allowable right now, what does that do to that surrounding area? Because that’s a lot of condos right there. What does it do to the property values?”

A rendering of the interior at a proposed Merritt Village apartment and condo complex in New Canaan.

A rendering of the interior at a proposed Merritt Village apartment and condo complex in New Canaan.

The comments came during first public hearing on the project. Dozens of neighbors and other New Canaanites packed into the Town Meeting Room during a lengthy hearing that featured both dramatic new details of the project itself—introduced by the project’s architect, Glastonbury-based S/L/A/M Collaborative and shown through models and digital renderings of before-and-after streetscapes, interior layouts—as well as pointed concerns expressed by a handful of immediate neighbors (see below).

New Canaan’s Arnold Karp, a principal of M2 Partners, said that though there are “certainly smaller units” in New Canaan such as auxiliary apartments, “most of New Canaan is completely sold out of rental apartments.”

A rendering of the interior at a proposed Merritt Village apartment and condo complex in New Canaan.

A rendering of the interior at a proposed Merritt Village apartment and condo complex in New Canaan.

“We do not have anything that has been on the market that is newer than 12 to 14 years old,” Karp said.

The concept for Merritt Village has been more than one year in the making and “in that time we have spoken to members of the chamber, people who are active in Staying Put, some merchants, certainly a number of residents—and that is how we came to the number of rentals and condos.”

“What we heard time and time again in New Canaan, and it is proven out by the numbers: Nobody has built this type of unit, and that is part of what requires the density that we are asking for. As our population ages, nobody wants stairs, necessarily. Most of the condos and rental units that have been built in New Canaan over the last 20 or 30 years have numerous stairs, certainly going at least from the first floor to the second. There are quite a few people who own and rent, as we did our homework, and they were actually using the living room on the first floor as their bedroom.”

Courtyard view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

Courtyard view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

Karp added that although the current Merritt Apartments development does include some families with kids in the public schools, Merritt Village is not expected to appeal to residents with school-age children.

Designed and filed June 1 on behalf of property’s owners by attorney Steve Finn of Stamford-based Wofsey Rosen Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP, the project seeks to pull the new structures themselves further from the road than the existing ones sit, adding layers of new landscaping and carving out room for a new sidewalk on the east side of Park Street, putting nearly all parking underground and featuring an “open space” plan that includes a pedestrian walkway through the heart of the property between Mead and Maple Streets, according to its advocates.

Maple Street view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

Maple Street view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

It meets several goals of the Plan of Conservation & Development, they say, and in its density requires a different set of regulations than the existing Apartment Zone allows. For that reason, the application also includes a recommended “Pedestrian Oriented Multifamily Zone” designed to “broaden the housing opportunities in and near downtown,” according to the application.

P&Z commissioners (except Secretary Jean Grzelecki, who recused herself as a neighbor) asked how many of the proposed 123 units are “senior-friendly” (all of them), whether there would be just one entrance into a proposed parking garage from Park Street (yes, though there are two underground garages, one beneath buildings identified as A and B on the site plan, another for C and D), whether the pedestrian path represents an easement for the town (no though it will be walk-able for the public and traversable for emergency vehicles), whether consideration has been given to the small cemetery (yes, in fact a burial ground consultant has been hired and the area will be restored and protected), whether any of the planned units will help New Canaan meet the state’s affordable housing requirement (no, though eight rental units will be set aside at below-market rates for what Karp called ‘workforce housing’), whether there’s a security plan for the development (plans include key fobs and swipe-able security cards or something similar), what happens to current residents during construction (they go elsewhere—nobody wants to phase it so that they’re living on a construction site) and how long construction is expected to take (about two years).

South lawn view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

South lawn view of the proposed new condominium/townhouse and apartment units at Merritt Apartments in New Canaan. Rendering courtesy of S/L/A/M Collaborative

Neighbors expressed concerns about traffic, the style of the proposed buildings and how the project could affect the town’s scale and aesthetic, as well as about lighting, including car lights potentially flashing into nearby Park Street homes from a proposed parking garage built into a hill, increased traffic on already busy streets, the pressure that so many new residents to the neighborhood could put on parking and social interactions, trash collection and the loom of such tall buildings over major motor vehicle gateways into town.

Anthony J. Saggese Jr., representing the Park Slope condominiums on the west side of Park Street, called the project a “threat to the health and safety of the neighborhood, particularly street crossing, parking, noise and air pollution.”

“The basis of their request is when they talk about it is easy walking distance to downtown for needed patronage for local stores, shops, restaurants and the movie theater. If that is the sole goal of this town, why don’t we just put up a Trump Tower in town and that will really accomplish this goal? The basis of the request, if you listen to it, to change our town’s rules and regulations is pure fluff based on speculation and self-serving assumptions of the facts.”

In comments that drew applause from several in the room, Saggese said some parts of the POCD do not support a project of Merritt Village’s magnitude, citing “New Canaan is not looking for growth for the sake of growth” among other sections, adding that the town is not seeking to emulate Darien, Greenwich or Westport and that “there is no inordinate burden” on the applicant that would justify text changes to the zoning regulations.

Mary Gironde of Maple Street said she lives about 25 feet from a proposed four-story building that is more than 50 feet high.

“I have looked around the town and there are some tall houses, but nothing is over three stories,” she told P&Z. “There may be one building on their site that is four stories but I am sure that it is not as tall as what is proposed.”

Gironde said that although she may walk over from her home to Starbucks to get coffee, “I do drive to the Acme, I drive to the Post Office, I drive everywhere in New Canaan because it’s easier.”

“It is a dream to think that, ‘Yes I can walk everywhere,’ and I could, but there are lots of times that I am in a hurry or during the day I might drive somewhere in New Canaan three times,” she said.

Gironde added that noise levels already are high with police and ambulances traveling past the neighborhood, and that bringing in so many more people will only amplify it.

“I don’t think a lot of seniors are going to like that noise,” she said.

Saggese and others voiced additional concerns about traffic, noting that entrances and exists for residents as well as vehicles for businesses that would serve the property are designed to come off of Park and Maple Streets only.

The consultant who supplied the applicant’s traffic study (it can be found here)—Michael Galante of Fairfield-based Frederick P. Clark Associates—said the upshot of his analysis was that “there is a not a need for mitigation from this development.”

“There is no need to change traffic control” on Park or other neighborhood streets as a result of Merritt Village, he said, beyond simple items such as a stop sign facing motorists exiting the development and, on Maple Street, a sign instructing them not to turn right (the wrong way on that one-way street).

P&Z Commission Chairman John Goodwin called for a third-party traffic expert to look at Galante’s findings and for the applicant to hire a parking engineer as well as whatever type of consultant is needed to address the question of how Merritt Village’s creation would affect other property values in town.

P&Z is scheduled to meet next at 7 p.m. on July 26 at Town Hall.

Here’s a look at how some standards of the proposed new zone compare to the current Apartment Zone:

Proposed 'Pedestrian Oriented Multifamily Zone' (POMZ)

CategoryApartment Zone*POMZ**
Lot-Related Standards
Minimum zone unit area15,000 square feet140,000 square feet
Minimum zone unit width100 feet200 feet
Minimum front yard setbacks25 feet25 feet
Minimum side and rear yard setbacks (principal building)25 feet25 feet
Minimum side and rear yard setbacks (accessory buildings)15 feet25 feet
Maximum densityOne unit per 5,000 square feet of lot areaOne unit per 1,200 square feet of lot area
Maximum building coverage25%35%
Minimum open space area50%50%
Building Standards
Maximum building height30 feet45 feet
Maximum total building height40 feet55 feet
Maximum stories2.5 stories4 stories
Maximum accessory building height20 feet, 1.5 story20 feet, 1.5 story
Minimum gross floor area per unit750 square feet650 square feet
Maximum number of unitsNA125
Parking spaces2 per unit1.5 per unit
*Source: New Canaan Zoning Regulations
**Source: Text Amendment Application filed on behalf of M2 Partners

27 thoughts on “‘Merritt Village’ Unveiled: New Details, Concerns from Neighbors Emerge at First Public Hearing of Proposed Development

  1. Re: The developer spoke to “people who are active in Staying Put”
    Some questions:
    1. What are the prices of the condos? Were the Staying Put users told of the prices when the market study was conducted by the developer?
    2. Exactly how many people who use Staying Put will move into these condos? Will these people sell their homes first and add to the 460+ homes/condos presently for sale?
    3. Who REALLY stands to benefit from these condos? Certainly the developer + investors who do not wish to be identified but what about the residents who live in the surrounding area?
    4. Will the people who presently live in the Merritt Apartments afford to return into these units after its built? What about them?

    • Will the Staying Put homeowners have enough left after paying the income taxes on the gain on sale of their present homes to purchase a new condo at Merritt?? Just a thought.

  2. It would be nice to see single level, even handicap accessible apartments here that are geared to the 55+ community that are affordable. Many seniors/disabled can not downsize from their homes and rent here.

  3. 90 more units than we have now on that site. Wow! That’s a small village of maybe 200 people., with traffic consequences. Plus the 4-story buildings, which remind me of growing up in the City of Providence where there were several early 20th c. 4-story apartment buildings on the East Side in the commercial, not residential districts.
    is that really in the character of New Canaan, which is still rural???
    Seeing the view of and from Park St (not Park Ave as the planner kept saying), in the winter, without foliage would reveal the great wall of China.

    Listening to the presentations, it appeared to me that not the planner nor the architect nor the landscape designer had ever been to New Canaan, or was familiar with its scale, preservation, or sense of place; they were looking at a block on a map. Period. Not one referred to our architectural and environmental heritage – except to cast aspersions on the historic Merritt Apartments (built c1880, Colonial Revivalized when north wing added in 1927) with the line “can’t be rehabilitated,” often repeated by architects who simply do not want to try to accommodate an old structure into their new grandiose scheme. The 1824 cemetery, established by Ezra Benedict. “will be cleaned up and I guess a fence put around it” was the desultory response to a worried resident’s query about it’s future.

    There was no reference to our architectural and cultural history, the development of the center village over two centuries, our casual stone walls, fields and meadows reflecting our rural heritage. This plan could be built anywhere – Westport, Scarsdale, Providence – it appears so foreign to New Canaan’s heritage in style, density and purpose. It’s a fallacy that seniors (I am one), if they could afford to live there, would walk to town to shop – who would carry their groceries?

    This is not an appropriate development for the town of New Canaan.

    • As someone who lives in town and has practiced as an architect and planner for the past 20 years, I could not disagree with you more. I thought the presentation was extremely thoughtful and well executed. I think the schematic design presented is absolutely in character with the architecture of the downtown and that the scheme presented has successfully addressed the issues at hand. The history of this town from an architectural perspective is the forward thinking architecture of 1940s when New Canaan became an important center of modern architectural design. Although the modern aesthetic has not been introduced into the commercial sector, it is still indicative of the character of New Canaan. We live in a changing world and a town that refuses positive growth will dwindle both economically and culturally. I think this development would be a positive addition to our town.

    • What should the “Character” of New Canaan be—old rusted buildings on Cross Street, old wood frame structures that need updating for ADA and safety? The planner, architect and landscape designer have worked and consulted in town with the YMCA, Saxe Middle school, South Elementary and several private projects. They have won numerous design awards both in the State of Connecticut and Nationally. I invite you to walk the “historic Merritt Apartments”—so you can explain why they are historic, is it simply because of age? All the period details have be stripped away long before our ownership. And we considered renovation but decided that older unsafe balloon framed structures and bland brick buildings –did not make sense to hing the total design of the new project on.
      The cemetery–How did it fall into such a state with all the people who are NOW so concerned about it–Where has everyone been for the last 50+ years. Since we do not own the cemetery property, but have offered to give it back the respect it deserves on our dime and time why doesn’t your committee take this on as its project for New Canaan.

  4. This is preposterous. Currently 400+ homes and condos for sale in a depressed New Canaan market. Flooding the market is not smart and will hurt the populous . The Chamber is not interested in home prices but increasing traffic for retailers. The are reasons for the regulations in our building code. It is getting ridiculous that the P&Z allow developers to constantly ask for changes to the code in order to line their own coffers under the disguises of it is good for the community. No it is not. Home prices are depressed, have been depressed and homes up for sale are at a all time high. 4 stories is not warranted in NC just look at the 4 story monstrosity at mill pond. The stamfordization of New Canaan must stop. What ever happened to height restrictions and underground parking restrictions. The density is to large to for our town and would be a dangerous traffic nightmare on Park St.

  5. New Canaan gave up beautiful 10 acre Mill Pond Park to Avalon to AVOID having high density housing in New Canaan – since it doesn’t pay for itself i.e. taxpayers pay for increase in water/sewer, education, traffic, police, etc. since taxes don’t cover increase in costs. Wilton purchased hundreds of acres of open space (as did New Canaan with Irving Park) to avoid these one time and annual costs that developers burden all the taxpayers in town while reaping the profits from rents. The big question that this article doesn’t cover is – How does POMZ compare to NC High Density Housing stats (or is this the apartment zone)? If this is the apartment zone stats – this is even WORSE than anyone could have a imagined a few years ago when the high density housing language was put on the books.

  6. Over a year ago, my husband spoke at the hearing against changing the zoning code from 2 stories to 3 in the downtown area. (Also a summer hearing when folks were already or getting ready to go away…what’s up with the timing here folks?) At that time, P&Z assured us that nothing was even being thought of in this range, yet here we are with 4 stories being proposed. Curiously enough Mr. Karp was very present with the planning commission at the time, supporting the zoning changes. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume this re-structuring of our downtown plan had already been in the works at that time. (The developers certainly had been buying up properties.) This project is NOT in keeping with the character of the buildings around it or with the town as a whole. Got to make a train? Got to get your kids to school? I’ll bet you already sit through a few lights in the morning trying to get through town on Park & Elm, Park & Pine. Now imagine the hold up will be continuing down to St. A’s and beyond where 9 months of the year school St. A’s will be in session further clogging this intersection. Kind of a giant “DUH” that P&Z thinks we ought to do a traffic study…my children could have scoped that one out. Lastly, I live “in town”and I am much closer to both the train and Elm than these condos will be…I am also incredibly physically fit and walk 20+ miles a week…however, I NEVER walk to do errands in town. Be it the library, grocery or an item from a store, even when I am not hurrying, it is cumbersome and difficult to be carrying items around rather than stowing them in a car…and I’m in my 50’s. So anyone who thinks that a “senior” will behave differently than this fit gal is blowing smoke…
    You can slap all the senior “good will” that you want on this project, or you can see it for what it is. Developers changing the face and feeling of our town for their own good.

    • Well said! Especially about the seniors walking to town to do their errands. My mother currently lives at the Merritt Apartments, and they are already costly for some seniors, what makes anyone think that seniors such as her will be able to afford to live there after! Maybe only the ones that are in certain income brackets!! She does not walk to town now. The traffic will be horrific on that corner.

  7. The 123 units are replacing 38 existing but under 830g State of Connecticut affordable housing regulations Mr Karp and partners could build 300+ units on this site without town input or approval. I would embrace the 123 units that have been applied for.

    • AMS on July 1, 2016 at 9:51 am said:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Chris Michelini is incorrect – but I believe it’s because while he owned Michelini Home Improvements in Cos Cob he only recently moved to New Canaan to start a business and is originally from NY State so doesn’t know New Canaan well. The town under another developer – Hobbs who runs our housing athority – just build 36 of a total 72 affordable housing units in New Canaan – so the Town has a 4 year moratorium from being terrorized by developers under 830g State of CT affordable housing. If New Canaan reaches 10% of it’s housing as affordable in the next 4 years – this gravy train (which benefits developers far more than affordable housing seekers) will stop. Sorry to disappoint. http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/news/article/New-Canaan-affordable-housing-moratorium-within-6871301.php

      • AMS……

        Thank you for taking the time to research myself, however your facts are off base, surprisingly. My wife’s family has family roots here that stem back over a half century. Being in the line of work I’m in I have seen just how many empty nesters and elderly people are still in homes they can’t maintain. So with that said, this is viable for New Canaan. AMS….. What is your back round? Do you have family roots in New Canaan? Do you own property? Do you have parents that should downsize? We are all quick to judge but never able to thoughly review and process what’s needed in a small community. My in laws would gladly sell there 4 acre home and live in town.

    • Your response is exactly what the developers are hoping for, that residents will embrace this project out of fear of how M2 Partners will retaliate if their plans for this massive development are thwarted. This is succumbing to a threat (the seriousness of which I rather doubt), which is never a sensible way to reach a decision.

  8. This is just the start of the development… P&Z worked very closely with Mr. Karp and other developers when they changed the 2014 – 10 year Plan of Development to remove the height requirement, etc.  Don’t expect P&Z to protect the town.  If you like NC the way it is now – that is not what P&Z, Mr. Kleppin and Mr. Karp have in mind.  Mr. Kleppin said that New Canaan couldn’t stop the development that wanted to come in.  Why?  Who said the Town has to change?  Redding is still the same.  I am not sure of his motivations – he attended a lot of meetings on making New Canaan a “transportation hub” – nice resume item?  It’s a boon to developers all over the state.  But what companies will come into CT?  What jobs?  Are we creating blight?  P&Z put multi-use buildings in the 2014 POCD downtown map – so if developers ask to do this – the town has already given their blessing  1. Apts & stores on either side of train station (where the State Parking lots are now).  The state parking lot leases are up in 2018!  see P&Z’s “wish” list on page 44 http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9490/293/331/12636/16619/Adopted_POCD_-_Effective_04-01-2016.pdf. This is just the tip of the iceberg….they say there will be meetings for residents – but this already has P&Z’s blessing – it’s a fate accompli unless these (and other even more scary changes) are taken out of the POCD in a major amendment.   No one cares if people make a profit – but not at the expense of destroying what other people love and care about to promote their vision and pocketbook.  The Town of New Canaan isn’t being upfront about what is about to happen – because they know most residents would hate it – they moved to NC to get away from this kind of development.  It’s being done piece meal – so by the time everyone understands what is happening – it’s too late….If residents want to stop this and a mulitude of other projects – it has to be changed at the source.  Insist on taking these and other changes out of the POCD in a major amendment.

    • Well said, Andrea, well said. In 2011 a group of residents fought the multi-tiered decked parking PLUS 100+ senior housing units on top of the Lumberyard Parking Lot.
      Proponents claimed that these seniors would increase ridership on Metro North.
      The Transit Oriented Development grant was denied by CT DOT. Yes, the term “transportation hub” has come up in several P+Z meetings. New Canaan is not Stamford but I agree with you, Andrea, Merritt Village is already a done deal — there may be a few tweaks — but it’s just a matter of time:

  9. Sounds like a terrible idea. Funny thing is none of these developers have to live near their ‘projects’. None of the principles at Grace Farms have to have their property values decline, neither do the builders suggesting the Merritt Apt. project. I can bet if it was happening on their street they wouldn’t be thrilled. My guess is they would just chat with their buddies on the P&Z to get it taken care of.

    Why can’t they develop a project that is scaled for that tiny little street? I hope it doesn’t pass with the way it’s being proposed today. Something scaled down would be much more appropriate.

    • The main developer of the project, me has lived in New Canaan for over 25 years. The property is 3.3 acres in the apartment zone. If the Town wants 50% open space then the parking must go below ground. Additionally, the number of units are far less than the Town itself says it needs for seniors and younger families coming to town.

      • Mr. Karp, you do not live ‘near’ your proposed project at the Merritt Apartments. Neither do the other developers. I can guarantee you wouldn’t like 300+apartments on your street. I don’t think you’d like over development in Watch Hill, either? I wouldn’t. As long as it’s not in the backyard of the developers, who cares? Same with Grace Farms. The extremely wealthy founders wouldn’t be ok with them building churches, community centers, or apartments near their homes. Guess who’d be first in line at the P&Z meetings to oppose it, if it even got that far.

        ‘Seniors’ can’t walk to town. They can’t carry groceries, they can’t walk home after dinner in town in the dark. How many ‘seniors’ at Heritage Hill walk to town? It’s full of elderly people and I can tell you from firsthand experience that less than 1% of them are even able to walk to town. It’s a terrible idea and I think it should be opposed and I encourage residents (including myself) to show up at the meetings and speak their minds.

  10. I don’t question that there is demand for in-town housing for seniors, young families, and people who work in New Canaan, but if I’m correct, when the developers quoted the additional tax revenue created by this project, they used an average unit value of $1,500,000. That number sounds pretty “high-end” to me, and will no doubt force most, if not all, of the current Merritt residents to leave town. Imho, we already suffer from having too many chiefs and not enough indians in town–we’re in the middle of phase 2 at Millport Avenue to address low-income housing needs/requirements, and if this project is approved, we’ll be subtracting one of our largest low-income alternatives.

  11. Remember Jeb Walker’s plan to expand downtown and change the complexion of New Canaan. It was voted down after numerous public hearings and wasted town resources. This is it being implemented piecemeal despite the majority of the populous opposing it. Government always believing the people are nieve

  12. It does not seem to make sense for a project of this size to require a new zone be created and yet NOT help move the town towards meeting the Affordable Housing requirements. I would have thought that’d be a minimum requirement for consideration given that such changes have long and lasting effects (and no one ever foresees all the ultimate consequences — there are always unintended consequences).

  13. The Merritt Apartments at the corner of Park Street and Maple Street known as the Merritt Apartments.  At the present time, this property is zoned “Apartment” which allows a maximum 8.712 units/acre of land (or a maximum of 30 units on the 3.48 acres).   

    Please explain how we get to this:
    Filed this month on behalf of M2 Partners, which owns a combined 3.29-acre parcel fronting Maple and Park Streets—and view able here on the town website through a drop-down menu—plans for ‘Merritt Village’ call for four 4-floor multi-family dwellings that will include 60 townhouse-style condos and 62 mid-rise apartment units?

    Tandem underground parking, you have to be kidding??? Seniors?? Moms with kids going to soccer practice???

    Design, is always subjective, but in my eyes its not very pleasing to eye.

    We need to talk about the scale surrounding our downtown. Will it create a valley of large buildings on the outskirts and mini buildings inside town. will it appear out of proportion???

    While we are talking about scale we also need to address who will be living in these properties and what will the market price be?
    $1,500,000.00 is not affordable for first time and senior buyers, so who is the target market for these apartments? Lets be realistic.

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