Op-Ed: The Character of New Canaan


A rendering of Oenoke Ridge, by Lantz-Boggio Architects. Courtesy of Waveny LifeCare Network

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. 

8 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Character of New Canaan

  1. Thank you, Tom for your thoughtful, objective analysis of this proposal. It deserves our careful attention. New Canaan is blessed with a world-class senior care facility in Waveny LifeCare. They’ve put forth a carefully-constructed proposal, trying to fulfill their mission. It deserves our earnest consideration.

  2. I agree with Tom. It is now or never. This is a defining moment for New Canaan. Are we a caring community, or a bedroom development for NYC. I choose a caring community. Lets give the seniors that built our town a place to grow old in New Canaan.

  3. I am so glad that you have published this beautifully worded essay about what is the meaning of character in New Canaan. It seems to speak with so much empathy for seniors who do want to stay in New Canaan. And if we, as a community, do want a responsible and caring place that will really attract and welcome seniors – and keep their skills and resources and energy as a moving force here in town, this is the chance to embrace the opportunity. Happily we have caring persons on our commissions and councils, too.

  4. While I appreciate your comments, my disapproval of this proposed facility has less to do with the aesthetics and more to do with the fact that it still does nothing to provide affordable housing for our seniors. With a nearly million dollar buy-in and a monthly contribution that is more than many mortgages, this proposed senior housing is still out of the reach of many of our seniors.

    • While I appreciate the emotion behind this appeal for the senior housing , it seems the complex is available to a very limited segment of the senior population who could afford many other alternatives. It also will create traffic and other logistical issues for the area. The development is much too large for the site, and while income for the town retailers and restaurants is cited as a plus for having it near town, the contained nature of the development says otherwise. Onsite restaurants, movie theatre and other facilities would do nothing to support our struggling downtown. It seems an affordable option for a broader range of seniors is needed, and perhaps this will be the impetus to find a location.

  5. There’s good reason to believe that Oenoke Ridge will be affordable to more than enough seniors to keep it fully occupied. Here’s some background: https://www.waveny.org/images/WavenyCCRC%20-%20FAQs%20-%2011-4-2019%20website%20post.pdf.

    Oenoke Ridge would require no taxpayer money to build or operate. The buy-in makes it highly unlikely that its residents will rely on taxpayers to fund (through Medicaid) any long-term care costs they incur. And, it wouldn’t preclude other public or private developers from building other facilities with different pricing structures.

    For those who assert that Oenoke Ridge shouldn’t be built because not everyone could afford it, what would you have said to the people who built New Canaan?

  6. Thanks for writing this op-ed and I agree with almost all of your points Tom. Recent years have reinforced New Canaan has had much less trouble attracting new residents — especially as our real estate has significantly devalued — than retaining existing residents. More needs to be done make New Canaan attractive to seniors that are increasingly moving to other states. In addition, history has shown that when common sense projects like this one get waylaid it does not mean a better alternative will be taken up. It means the idea will be delayed indefinitely. That is not ok and I share the concern the same will happen here. There are moral and economic reasons to undertake this project, as Tom outlined. Could the project have a smaller footprint? Yes. Could the main building undergo design alterations to fit in better with the surroundings? Yes. Are these reasons to stop the project? No. I very much hope that P&Z will address some of these reasonable concerns but will not nullify the project itself.


    Fighting senior housing is Ageism at its worst.

    There is no reason building this one project “precludes” another project for middle income seniors.

    My father lives in Waveny Life Care and they are a wonderful organization. Shame on everyone who opposes this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *