At a standing-room only Planning & Zoning Commission hearing on October 29th, Waveny Life Care Network proposed building an independent living residence that would complete its plan to provide a continuing care retirement community (“CCRC”) in New Canaan. Almost everyone agrees with the concept, but over 1,000 residents have signed a petition opposing the proposed site on Oenoke Ridge.
Opponents apparently assume that if they block the Oenoke Ridge site, the facility could simply be built somewhere else.
For 30 years, Town leaders and developers have floated New Canaan locations for senior housing and each time have been told to “build somewhere else.” Each time, “somewhere else” has turned out to mean nowhere at all.
If the Oenoke Ridge location is rejected, the message to developers will be that New Canaanites don’t want a CCRC in our Town. The opposition’s campaign tactics will become a template that other residents will use to resist proposals in other locations. Each time we say no to a senior housing proposal, the odds of a successful future proposal diminish significantly.
So, let’s debate the real question: Do we build senior housing on Oenoke Ridge or nowhere at all?
Most of the complaints boil down to aesthetics. Even though there are hundreds of landscape views that define the visual character of New Canaan, opponents claim that changing this one particular landscape on Oenoke Ridge will “destroy the character of our Town.” However credible one finds that claim, it should be weighed against a long list of positives.
Approving the Oenoke Ridge proposal would be an expression of kindness, compassion, caring, and respect for our seniors at a time in their lives that frankly can be terrifying to navigate. These qualities are a better measure of the character of our Town than changing a single landscape. If friends and neighbors decide to stay in town for the rest of their lives, it should shock the conscience that they’d have to move elsewhere when we could keep them in New Canaan at no cost to taxpayers.
Approving Oenoke Ridge would generate significant property tax revenues, many times more than a single-family residence. That revenue would lessen the burden on all taxpayers.
Approving Oenoke Ridge would have a favorable impact on property values. The supply of houses on the market would drop if residents decide to stay in their homes longer, knowing they can move to the CCRC when the need arises. The demand for homes would rise as young buyers learn that an in-town CCRC will be available for their elderly parents. The perspective that that New Canaan is a caring community also would appeal to some home buyers.
Approving Oenoke Ridge would help sustain the generous flow of donations that seniors give to local non-profit organizations. When seniors “out-migrate,” they tend to shift their donations to charities in their new communities, threatening to leave a hole in the service offerings that New Canaan charities provide.
These are but a few of the compelling arguments in favor of the Oenoke Ridge proposal.
For many of us, the design of the proposed Oenoke Ridge facility is attractive and would be in character with the area. I respect those who disagree, but I urge them to also take into account the overwhelming moral and economic benefits the project would bring to our Town.
Preserving the visual character of New Canaan is a worthy cause. But never let it be said of New Canaan that we value a single landscape more than we value the happiness and peace of mind of our senior citizens.
Tom is on the New Canaan Town Council, but writes in his personal capacity.