Petitioners Fail To Obtain Required Signatures for Referendum Vote on Town’s $10 Million Grant for New Canaan Library Project


Those seeking to force a referendum vote on town’s $10 million grant to New Canaan Library for its widely anticipated rebuilding project failed to garner enough verifiable signatures before deadline, officials say.

The petitioners needed to obtain 689 signatures of New Canaan registered voters—5% of qualified local electors as of the most recent voter list—in order to force a town-wide vote on the grant, Town Clerk Claudia Weber has said.

Yet after verifying the names and qualifying status of the names submitted to her office, Weber said the petitioners fell short. 

They obtained 528 signatures of support, Weber told 

“On behalf of the thousands of New Canaanites eagerly waiting for the new New Canaan Library, we look forward to receiving our building permit and starting construction,” Library Director Lisa Oldham said.

Opponents to the library’s plan for a new 42,641-square-foot facility—located closer to Maple Street and with a new entrance facing south—emerged soon after the organization unveiled its project in January 2020. Many of those opposed to the project said the library should be required to preserve the original 1913 library and a 1930s-era addition. The preservationists argued that a substantial number of New Canaanites wanted the building to remain in place, and some town officials, including some members of the Board of Selectmen, even referred to a “groundswell” of support for the preservationists’ cause. Some members of P&Z said the town was divided 50-50 on the matter.

The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the project in July, leaving open the question of just how the library would preserve the building, such as moving all or some of it to a different part of the property. A few weeks later, the New Canaan Preservation Alliance sued P&Z over the approval. That civil matter is still pending in state Superior Court.

The new building will cost about $39.2 million, a figure that includes $1.7 million in contingencies, according to members of the organization’s Board of Trustees. The library already has raised more than $16.9 million toward the project from more than 220 individual donors, is seeking a $10 million contribution from the town and has a four-year plan to fundraise the balance, they have said. 

The Town Council in April approved a draft Memorandum of Understanding that spells out the terms of the town’s contribution. On Aug. 25, the legislative body voted 10-0-2 to bond $10 million for the rebuilding project. Weber’s office on Sept. 7 received a qualifying Notice of Intent to Petition regarding the vote.

5 thoughts on “Petitioners Fail To Obtain Required Signatures for Referendum Vote on Town’s $10 Million Grant for New Canaan Library Project

  1. It is unfortunate that a vocal minority could paralyze our elected representatives in this manner. The library might have communicated more effectively with the public on the preservation issue, but the loudest voices do not necessarily express the will of the community.

  2. Speaking for myself, many of us who signed this petition SUPPORT a new library! The petition was about saving a portion of the 1913 library & its existing green. This is a handsome town landmark which could be incorporated into a new campus. The Town has shown its support by contributing $10 million, then loaning another $10 million as a line of credit which could be paid off by sale of the Cherry – Main Street corner lot for business development. A big commitment by the Town, whatever the eventual outcome, a new library is what most of us want!

    • Hi Terry,

      Thank you for submitting your comment.

      A few points in response.

      First, we don’t know just yet what “saving a portion of the 1913 library” will look like. You will recall the following two conditions that P&Z set on approval of the project in July:

      Condition #8: “Within a hundred and twenty days (120) after the effective date of approval the New Canaan Library shall work with the Town Planner and if desired by the Commission or Town Planner, an external adviser, hired by the Town and paid for by the Library to present options to preserve appropriate portions of the existing library building older than 1937. Appropriate items recommended, by the Commission, for preservation could include, the façade, pillars and roof line of the pre-1937 buildings.”

      And Condition #9: “The final preservation option plan shall be reviewed by the Town Planner and shall be brought back to the Commission, for approval prior to the implementation of the plan.”

      Given that we don’t yet know what those preservation options are, it’s not clear how we should reconcile a desire to “save a portion” of the original buildings with the petition itself.

      Second, you say that you support the new library, while also saying you signed a petition that sought to remove $10 million in funding for the project that the library itself has said it needs to move forward. How compatible are those two things?

      Finally, the library—the property owner and developer of this project—has said that the new “green” is an integral part of its site plan. In other words, the green is tied to the rebuilding project such that it cannot be broken out/separated from the new facility, according to the library and its professional architects. I understand that preservationists through eight public hearings and letters to P&Z and others tried to re-frame that part of the discussion, yet the library never changed its position. Given that, it’s not clear how tenable your desire to “support” the new library while discarding the planned green is.

      Thank you again.

  3. The New Canaan Preservation Alliance has continued to be supportive of the construction of a new library building. We are also continuing to try every avenue to preserve the iconic, historic 1913 Library. When the New Canaan Library Board agrees that both buildings would create a beautiful library campus, they will see far more than 220 donors!

    • And if the NCPA had successfully convinced electors that preservation of the 1913 building was essential to the library rebuilding project, the petitioners would’ve seen far more than 528 signatories.

      But enough pretending that the voices of a small group reflect the wider will of the taxpayers/electors (let alone pretending that signing a piece of paper is the same as donating or pledging hundreds or thousands of dollars). To your assertion that the NCPA “has continued to be supportive of the construction of a new library building,” I’ll only say good luck with your lawsuit objecting to P&Z’s approval of construction of a new library building.

      This thread is closed.