NCPA Sues P&Z Over Approval of Library Preservation Plan


Six months after suing the town Planning & Zoning Commission for approving New Canaan Library’s widely anticipated rebuilding project, local preservationists last week filed another appeal in state Superior Court.

The New Canaan Preservation Alliance said in its new complaint that P&Z’s approval last month of the library’s plan to preserve much of what remains of an original 1913 building by moving it to the organization’s western property line was “illegal, unlawful, capricious and/or an abuse of the power and authority vested in the Commission” by state law.

The approval is contrary to a document that guides development in New Canaan, the lawsuit said, and violates the Zoning Regulations and state statute, according to the complaint, filed by by attorneys Patricia Sullivan and Philip Pires of Bridgeport-based Cohen and Wolf, P.C.

P&Z approval “relocated part of the 1913 library, which is not ‘in situ’ preservation,” the complaint said.

“The relocation of the 1913 library is not consistent with any understanding or definition of ‘historic preservation’ pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act, the New Canaan Plan of Conservation and Development, the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, or the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation,” it said. “The Commission did not make required findings of fact or identify sufficient or adequate reasons for its actions” under the zoning regulations or state law, it said.

As with the first lawsuit, which is pending, the library also is listed as a defendant. K.K.F LLC, a company that owns the Mobil Station property downtown and whose principals own and operate that business, is listed as a plaintiff, in addition to the NCPA.

According to minutes of the Dec. 14 P&Z meeting, “Architects Mark Herter and Jim Childress said they focused on the 1913 building and concluded that the best location for the building would be on the west edge of the property parallel to the gas station building and approximately 80 feet from the new library building with a grove of trees between the new library building and the relocated 1913 building. A discussion ensued about what actually exists and what will be preserved. According to the architects, the front portion of the building will be preserved, the original north and south walls no longer exist because they were removed to accommodate the 1936 addition and some portion of the west wall still exists.”

Also according to the minutes, “Mr. Herter explained how the building will be moved. A new foundation will be built for the building to sit on which will allow all the front stairs to remain and there will be some basement/cellar space to house the building’s mechanical systems. Ms. [Lisa] Oldham [executive director of the library] said the preserved building will house a mission driven library program and the library will assume financial responsibility for the building’s maintenance and operation.”

P&Z voted 7-2 in favor of the preservation plan. The library’s plans call for a new 42,641-square-foot facility located closer to Maple Street and with a new entrance facing south. Construction is underway.

Opponents of the library’s rebuilding project began voicing concerns about plans to install a green where the original building sits in public hearings held after the library’s application came into the town last February. 

About one month after the NCPA field its first lawsuit, petitioners sought to challenge the Town Council’s decision to bond $10 million toward the library project. Yet they were unable to get the signatures needed to force a referendum vote.

Though multiple signers of the petition for referendum are NCPA board members, it’s unclear what the private organization’s internal discussions on the matter have been. On Sept. 10, after the New Canaanite published a news item regarding the referendum effort (which had not yet failed), NCPA Board President Neele Stichnoth sent the following email to this reporter, republished in part, while copying the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Town Council, Audit Committee and town planner:

“Hi Mike,
I was very surprised to read your article in ‘Did You Hear…’ concerning the Petition for a Referendum.
The use of “preservationists” by you and “these people” by Lisa Oldham implies that the New Canaan Preservation Alliance and its Friends of the 1913 Library Committee were  involved in the initiation of this petition.
We were not.
I’m disappointed that you would have contacted Lisa Oldham, the NCL Executive Director, so her inference has been publicly stated, yet you didn’t contact me, the NCPA Board President, to verify if this underlying innuendo was true.
It is not.
We continue to be supportive of the construction of a new library building.  We are trying every avenue to preserve the historic 1913 library building which those people want to demolish. We continue to work towards having a library campus representing New Canaan’s past and future.”

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