New Canaan’s highest-elected official said this month that because he’s a neighbor of a proposed development, he will recuse himself from any “governmental process” with respect to the project.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said he will not participate in any votes on the Board of Finance, where he sits as a tie-breaking member, or on the Planning & Zoning Commission, when it comes to an application filed last month for a 102-unit affordable housing development at Weed and Elm Streets.
“My position right now is I am recused from the governmental process of participating in those two bodies and their votes,” Moynihan said during the March 8 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “That doesn’t mean I am not involved.”
He added, “I am the chief executive and I will continue to be involved in this whole process to make sure that the town is properly, from my point of view, addressing the issue. And I also said I’m not disinterested in the process. Frankly, I’m a neighbor. It doesn’t make me any more opposed to the proposal that has currently been made. It seems like everybody in town so far is saying they’re opposed to the proposal. If that is confusing it is probably because it doesn’t come up very often.”
Moynihan spoke in response to comments that New Canaan resident Giacomo Landi put to him during the public comment portion of the meeting. Landi said that the town should have someone step into Moynihan’s role in situations where he has to recuse himself from votes as a neighbor of the proposed development.
“In particular, I understand the first selectman’s office has a tie-breaking vote on the Board of Finance, if I understand that correctly,” Landi said. “So if there’s an issue where a person is recused of three-person committee, which is the Board of Selectmen, who is actually taking over that role on behalf of the Board of Selectmen? In particular, there have been legal documents prepared by the town on behalf of the town instructing certain agencies to look at things in certain ways. Lawyers have clients—the lawyers of the town, the client is the town—so who on the town body is actually reviewing these documents that the town lawyers are putting out on their behalf? Or are town lawyers merely exercising own judgment as they are preparing these documents?”
Landi appeared to be referring to a recent memo from the town attorney’s office to the town planner. Among other things, it said that Planning & Zoning Commission’s have “a very limited ability” to deny applications for affordable housing developments.
News of the proposal at Weed and Elm broke last month, after a separate application from the property owner—made to the New Canaan Water Pollution Control Authority, regarding sewer capacity and approval for hook-ups—was made public. (In New Canaan, the Board of Finance acts as WPCA, and at its Feb. 10 meeting formally noted the application’s filing and said it would make a decision in April-May, as per a 65-day timeframe spelled out under state law.)
Arnold Karp is developer and owner of the property, the sewer application said.
In comments threads online and social media, dozens of residents have criticized the proposal. More than 2,600 people have signed an online petition saying they’re “vehemently oppose the proposed development.” More than $64,000 has been raised for a legal defense fund launched by neighbors.
Moynihan noted during the meeting that town officials, such as those on the finance board and P&Z, “cannot engage in ex-parte communications with the public because it’s really an adjudicatory process.”
“The whole point is the process has to be fair and what is being submitted as comments have to be available to the public,” Moynihan said. “There can’t be any private conversations, in other words, with any member of a body who is going to make a vote. I will not be making a vote in any process. If it comes back to the Board of Selectmen in some way, I am involved with town attorney, I am fully aware of the discussions, so if you have the impression that I’m not involved, that impression is totally wrong. I will not be using my influence in any way with any parties, either town employees or any members of those town bodies that have to decide.”