P&Z Commissioner Defends Himself Against Perception of Bias in Glass House Application


A member of the Planning & Zoning Commission last week defended himself against the perception—already voiced at a public meeting—that he should recuse himself from a high-profile matter involving a National Trust For Historic Preservation site because it’s located just a few hundred yards from his house.

Commissioner Dick Ward, of Winfield Lane, said that he has never spoken directly to those who oversee the Philip Johnson Glass House.

“I have never discussed this matter with any of the neighbors or participated in any other neighbors’ meetings or discussions,” Ward said at P&Z’s April 26 meeting, held at Town Hall. “My house is three properties away from the Glass House, beyond the notification limit. And personally I have not been affected by the activities of the Glass House.”

Officials from the Glass House have said they’re seeking to expand their operations in order to meet the financial realities of managing the 49-acre Ponus Ridge campus and its 14 structures.

Under a scaled-down version of what originally had been proposed, the Glass House is seeking to run one “night tour” per month in lieu of one currently allowed “twilight tour,” up to three “special programmatic tours” per year with approval from P&Z administrative staff and two “special corporate tours,” both with a maximum of 150 people and during the May through November tour season, and to increase the maximum number of attendees at the single annual fundraiser on the campus from 250 to 400.

Though P&Z Chairman John Goodwin has spoken in favor of the Glass House’s application, calling it a good and important neighbor in New Canaan, Ward has remained critical of the plan.

Specifically, he has cited the problem of “institutional creep,” whereby an organization located in a residential zone, once allowed to do business under a special operating permit, gradually expands that operation in a way that disrupts or otherwise negatively impacts neighbors.

At a public hearing on March 29, after an attorney for the Glass House noted during an exchange with Ward that the P&Z commissioner is a neighbor, one New Canaan resident in attendance called for Ward to recuse himself.

“I don’t know if anybody else here is a neighbor, but I would ask you to recuse yourself from the vote,” Jack Trifero said during that public hearing. “I didn’t think you were non-prejudiced in your discussion.”

Ward responded that he disagreed and said: “I have every right to make a decision, and the fact that I am a citizen of the town of New Canaan and I do not represent the neighbors that have spoken or written—as a matter of fact, I haven’t even spoken to any of them, nor have they called me to try and influence me. And I thank them for it, because they recognize that that would be a conflict.”

Trifero responded that Ward “just seemed like a man who had made up his mind, before the discussion.”

Ward at last week’s meeting said: “I have spoken a number of times over the past couple of years about concerns about institutional creep and I am very concerned that what the Glass House is asking for now is not a modest modification of the existing special permit, but a drastic change which, in my opinion, is virtually gutting the existing special permit.”

The comments came as Ward himself attempted to introduce a motion to deny the Glass House’s plans. Ultimately, citing a rather late night already, P&Z continued the discussion to a special meeting to be held Tuesday.

It is not uncommon for P&Z commissioners to recuse themselves from items that come before the group and involve their own neighborhoods—commissioner Kent Turner did just that in connection to a matter involving Silver Hill Hospital. It also is common for neighbors who live beyond the formal notification area for an application to come forward and give testimony before P&Z, as more than one neighbor did last week in connection with one organization’s plan to put up a new structure by the Lee Garden on Chichester Road.

Ward said at last week’s P&Z meeting that “one of the problems is that the [Glass House] application and the terms of the special permit request that they have provided us have to be read very carefully, and I don’t feel that even the neighbors understand just what the application is really requesting.”

Here’s a map that details the journey between Ward’s property and the Glass House:

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