Saying the change would help commercial property owners, retailers and the wider community, a local land use attorney has applied to the town to allow first-floor offices in a business zone that skirts the center of downtown New Canaan.
Representing the new owners of the former Beval Saddlery building on Pine Street, attorney David Rucci of Main Street’s Lampert, Toohey & Rucci LLC is seeking to amend the New Canaan Zoning Regulations to “re-establish first floor office use with site plan review in the Business A zone.”
“The Business A zone was created in 1985,” Rucci wrote in an application filed Monday with Planning & Zoning. “It is the largest of the business zones and represents the second ring of the core. While there is a prohibition on new first floor office use today, over 50 percent of the zone serves first floor general office use. The remaining properties serve retail, bank, medical, second floor office use and single purpose type of business use.”
The application continued: “By re-establishing first floor general office use in the Business A zone, we believe the zone would become more economically viable for both A zone building owners and the Town of New Canaan. The Business A zone now struggles with filling vacancies.”
Allowing first-floor offices in the Business A zone would open up more space near the center of town for small offices, Rucci said, “bringing employees and commerce closer to the retail districts and train station.”
“This would also encourage retail business to relocate to vacancies in the traditional retail districts. This change is supported by many Business A property owners, as well as Tucker Murphy, the president of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce.”
The Business A zone includes nearly all of the two-way stretch of Elm Street in New Canaan, parts of Grove Street, all of Pine Street and commercial lots on both sides of Cherry Street as it curls past Cross Street, almost to Locust Avenue (see map here).
The changes that allowing first-floor office use in the zone would require of the regulations are relatively minor. As the regulations currently are written (see page 78 here), the Business A zone allows “General and Medical Offices,” with site plan approval, provided that “general offices are not permitted on the first floor of any building” and “any floor used for general office shall be located more than seven feet in vertical height above or below the curb level of the adjacent street.”
The changes that Rucci is recommending would strike those requirements as well as part of another requirement that limits how much of a building can be used for offices (see the proposed text changes here).
Rucci’s client, Cross Realty-Connecticut LLC, last week purchased the single-floor brick building at 50 Pine St. for $4,350,000. The company’s managing partners, according to Connecticut Secretary of the State records, include members of the Cross family that gives its name to a Bangor, Maine-based insurance company.
It isn’t clear whether the owners plan to preserve the former Beval Saddlery building itself for office use, or to redevelop the property—for example, with a mixed-use building—that allows for office space on the street level, currently prohibited by the zoning regulations. Rucci said in the application that the ownership company has offices in New Canaan.
In explaining the reasons for the proposed text changes, Rucci notes that many of the buildings in the Business A zone now have legally non-conforming first-floor office uses, because they predate the 1985 change to the regulations.
“The current buildings and sites are well equipped to accommodate general office as many have on- and off-street parking,” he said. “We do believe there would be a positive effect on the downtown retail zones by pushing the retail uses that are within the Business A zone to the downtown area.”
In reviewing the history of the Business A zone, Rucci notes that in 1973, P&Z reviewed the town’s business district with a report in hand that recommended New Canaan “increase retail uses outside the retail zone. The report believed additional retail would be needed for a growing town.”
“At the time much of the new construction in the business district was to accommodate first floor office use and there was a fear that this would prevent retail and service facilities from expanding into the business district,” the application said.
Yet no action was taken for more than a decade.
In 1984, Rucci said, “the Commission moved forward with a second review on the Business Zone.”
“The review came as the owner of the Lumberyard site (train station) was considering building an office park. The Town was concerned with this type of development and decided to proactively address the Business Zone. Additionally, there was desire to have more first floor medical uses closer to town. With those factors in play the Commission created there separate business zones in 1985. … The 1985 zoning revision relocated general offices to the second floor and promoted retail and medical use on the first floor. Despite the change today a majority of the properties within the Business A zone (over 50 percent) still serve first floor office use.”
P&Z’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30.