P&Z File: 100 Letters Submitted Regarding New Canaan Library’s Rebuilding Plans


An overhead view of the proposed new library. Specs by Turner

The town has received 100-plus letters regarding New Canaan Library’s applications related to a widely discussed plan to rebuild the downtown facility, according to documents published on the municipal website. 

Listed along with the library’s voluminous applications under the site’s Planning & Zoning section, most of the letters call for officials to preserve the original 1913 structure, though 24 of those—nearly half of the total—are identical form letters whose signatories identify themselves in many cases as out-of-town or out-of-state.

In some cases those submitting the form letter to various town bodies appear to have copied and pasted it without taking the further step of filling out their own names at the end, so that the signature still reads “Name Email Address.” One person, Nancy Odell Rombach, signed form letter with her name and email, and then wrote “Used to be cedar lane, new canaan ,ct.”

The form letter itself refers to a “groundswell of New Canaan residents eager to keep our 1913 landmark library building in its original iconic location.”

Those advocating for approval of the library’s plans call the proposed new facility—as submitted, including a green space where the 1913 building now stands—transformative for the downtown, local businesses and wider community.

The Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday is expected to take up the library’s applications to build a new glass-and-stone exterior facility that features an auditorium, outdoor terrace, café and public concourse, and reimagines use of the organization’s gateway block to the downtown. The library is applying for site plan and Special Permit approval, text changes to the New Canaan Zoning Regulations and an attendant zoning boundary change.

The new library will cost about $35 million to build, officials have said, and construction will last for approximately two years. The library has requested a $10 million contribution from the town toward the project.

P&Z itself is expected to focus exclusively on the library’s submitted plans, including a revised parking proposal that makes use of a portion of the Center School Lot. 

A draft Memorandum of Understanding tied to the $10 million town contribution is making its way through New Canaan’s funding bodies. Though one recent version of it includes a new clause that allows for a decision on whether to demolish the original 1913 library building to be put off during construction—and though some letter-writers refer to the draft MOU—P&Z is not expected to weigh in on that document. In fact, an attorney for the library asserted last month that the fate of the 1913 building will need to be decided by P&Z as part of its decision on the library’s site plan.

Some of the letter-writers advocating for the library’s project refer directly to the 1913 building.

Amanda Martocchio, a New Canaan resident and architect who has served on the library’s Building Committee, said that the benefit of the new library “will far outweigh the sacrifice of the 1913 building, which is necessary to execute the comprehensive architectural solution.”

It’s not possible for the new library to achieve its objectives while preserving the original structure, she said.

“The 1913 building, as a small stand-alone annex on the library campus, would contribute minimal interior space for library functions,” Martocchio said in the letter. “It would require its own mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, and an ADA bathroom that would extensively reduce its already limited usable footprint. Mechanical systems required for a freestanding 1913 building would duplicate those required in the new building at a redundant cost. A freestanding annex would add considerably to the construction budget, require expanded library staff, and increase the library’s operating costs going forward.”

As designed, the library green overlooking Cherry and Main Streets “could accommodate educational programs, staged performances, in addition to passive recreation,” Martocchio said. 

“The 1913 building would fall in the middle of the green, leaving the outdoor space divided in two: half located behind the 1913 building and along the current gas station, and half along Main Street. The elevated existing grade surrounding the 1913 building would create a mound in the middle of the lawn, reducing the potential for large outdoor gatherings. Other town greens, such as God’s Acre, have contributed to the fabric of our town and have served as important community gathering places. Providing another green space will serve as a pedestrian destination from the town center in keeping with New Canaan’s reputation as a walkable town.”

And keeping the 1913 building would not only require “a time-consuming and costly re-design,” she said, but also “would be a sub-optimal solution.”

“Inclusion of the 1913 building would be inconsistent with the library’s sustainable, forward thinking and comprehensive design. Although I would be sad to lose the 1913 building, I am excited by the new New Canaan Library project and the positive contribution it will make in our community.”

Other advocates for the library’s project cite its forward-looking design and functionality as a much-needed and new draw to the downtown and the new building’s ability to host even more and wider-ranging types of programs.

Vicky Merwin said the planned new library green “is incredibly exciting to me and many other families.”

“Ever since the ‘Pop-Up Park’ was eliminated, I’ve been yearning for a centralized location to simply relax in town and this far exceeds my expectations,” Merwin said in her letter. “I can envision my baby’s playgroup meeting there then heading into town together. I can see older versions of my children having a safe, expansive place to hang out in town after school other than the ice cream shop. From my experience as a board member for Newcomers and a local preschool, I absolutely see this as a go-to venue for countless events and programming that we have been struggling to find, all of which will bring more people to our downtown businesses.”

Some the letters submitted to town officials are just one or two sentences long—for example: “Please protect the old library building. It was built to last with local stone and last it should” (Eileen Aliprandi); “Please DO NOT RAZE the 1913 Library. It is the most beautiful building in the town and reflects the history and aesthetics of the town” (John Lydon); “Leave our library alone” (Constantine and Xanthipi Joannides) and “We support forward-looking change that keeps our town offerings current” (Megan Wunderlich on behalf of the Wunderlich family).

One of the letters is handwritten while another was submitted in the form a video. These 24 people submitted the form letter: Annette Aspillaga, Bea Hollis, Kathy Richards, Patricia DAddesio, Amanda Chin, Dolores OCallaghan, Erica Roblee, Nick Quarrier, Sara Wolter, Sara van der Voort, Tracy Everson, Valerie Stryker, Vicky Howard, W. Meade Chaffey, Alice E. Ridgway, Ann Brookshire, Cindy Rosario, Dana Otopalik, Janet Lindstrom, Judith C. McLevey, Elizabeth Knox, Laura Leigh Neville, Lauren McCusker and Nancy Odell Rombach.

Another person who used the form letter, Sasha Lawer, published it beneath her own comments, including a call for the town to “[p]lease make this a win-win.”

“There are ways to create a new library without destroying one of the few remaining old buildings that give [sic] New Canaan its character,” Lawer said. “It is bad enough that Karp’s ‘vue’ has made our town look like a cruise ship has docked in the middle of it. Please do not let this perversion of what was once a beautiful New England town continue. We all know the current economy will go ‘bust’ in the not too distant future and New Canaanites will be stuck footing the bill for a project that not all believe is the correct solution for the town’s needs.”

Keith Simpson, a town resident and New Canaan-based landscape architect, said in a letter to P&Z that he is “not objecting to the new library building itself, but, along with many other people, I am very concerned about the prospect of the demolition of the historic 1913 portion of the building and its gallery, which I believe does not need to be, and should not be, chopped into pieces, moved or bulldozed.”

“I will have, what I believe to be, a fair, sensible, viable and responsible solution to this dilemma, which I would appreciate the opportunity to describe to the Commission,” Simpson continued. “It will propose for your consideration certain conditions which could be attached to any approval granted. My suggested solution will not hold up the project if accepted.”

10 thoughts on “P&Z File: 100 Letters Submitted Regarding New Canaan Library’s Rebuilding Plans

  1. Form letter weirdness aside, something worth maybe noting about “saving” the 1913 building is that is has been saved. Three times in fact. In 1937, 1952 and 1979. That’s a lot of lifelines for a structure that has admirably carried on its original mission to be “a place for reading, research, study and reflection” in the face of the numerous design and architecture advances over the years – many of which New Canaan has pioneered. Make no mistake, the 1913 building has had a good run. But now it should gracefully step aside and let a new vision lead the way, with the same freedom to fully thrive as it originally enjoyed 108 years ago.

  2. I have been reading and taking note of the letters to the P&Z regarding the library and I counted 111 letters (including the video) as of this morning that are for preserving the 1913 library, and 61 letters that wish to see the library’s full plan that would mean demolishing the 1913 library.
    While a portion that are form letters are not ideal, they still mean that someone wanted to be counted for their opinion.
    My opinion is that this historic landmark should be preserved for future generations.

  3. It’s possible to be for a new library AND the incorporation of the existing 1913 portion of the structure. Few would argue that our current building meets all of the needs of our town, but before we make a decision to tear down a piece of history that has been preserved in prior renovations, let’s pause. There are many voices to listen to here, and all should be heard. The lovely and historic 1913 library can and should be preserved, AND we can and should create a new library incorporating it which will meet today’s needs.

  4. The original Westport Public Library built in 1909 is substantially the same architecture as the original New Canaan Library and sits on the corner of Main Street and the Post Road in that town. This library had a left side addition put on and was the sole library for years until the town found a new location for a much larger and complete library which was recently updated .

    After the Westport library moved the original library became a Starbucks and the addition became a commercial space. What we are faced with in New Canaan is space for expansion which the current library plans have solved without the old library in the picture and without having to move to a new location which would be a problem as Westport had to fill in part of a river for the library and its out door theater. Fortunately, New Canaan will
    not have that problem and will provide a nice large green for the town which will be an attraction in addition to an updated library for the town now and in the future.

  5. The destruction of the 1913 Library

    I’m a former resident of New Canaan, now living in another state in my adult years. I however I still consider it my first true home and do enjoy visiting yearly. My family lived there for decades, many are buried in Lakeview Cemetery today. My grandfather and his business made many contributions to the town over the years and he was very proud of his town.

    Some of the changes to the town have been good while others have been very disturbing. Many great homes and buildings have been removed, I supposed justified, in the name of progress. The latest building with a big bulls eye on it for destruction, is the 1913 Library. This wonderful building has stood proud in this town for 108 years. I myself remember entering it in 1958 at the age of five with my mother holding my hand as I walked up those steps. Those steps looked huge to a five year olds eyes for the first time. I remember being greeted inside by the librarian and wish truly that I could remember her name today. As I looked around I saw a wonderful place filled with more books than I had ever seen. I remember picking out two books for my mother to bring home to read to me, it’s a wonderful first memory, I have never forgotten. The library became a place of comfort to go to for me for many school years after that. It became the same comforting place of learning for many thousands of people in town for over 100 years.

    I know the people who want to destroy the building will say, oh, he’s just a sentimental 67 year old guy who resists change, just like the others who resist something new. That is certainly NOT the truth at all. I do see the benefit of having this wonderful new facility, with high tech ways of learning in a fantastic environment. A multi use facility, with open space, a theater, great lighting and room to expand in the future. I get it ! and am not arguing that it would be a wonderful facility and asset for the town.

    I listened to the planning and zoning meeting by zoom the other night. I listened in disappointment to Lisa Oldham speaking of how the old library no longer could be a useful building for the town in any possible way. She went on with saying many, many false things about the poor shape of the structure, the poor shape of the foundation and of course had to throw in that there is asbestos as a scare tactic. The fact is the 1913 library is a sound structure, built by true craftsman and the only real issues are with the additions added to it, years later. She went on to dangle the many shiny jewels and benefits of the new library and as I said, I’m not disputing what an asset to the town it would be.

    What I find very disturbing is the closed minded thinking about the old library. It could continue to be an important useful structure to the town into the future. These two buildings could live very well in harmony with each other, it only takes the will of people with open minds who also care just a bit about town history as well. Remember, there are no problems, only solutions !

    The 1913 library could have its additions removed, the side where stone work was removed can be repaired. The building could then be used for many useful things to further benefit the town. Their reasons for removal are weak and full of mis truths. One of their main reasons for removal of the existing structure is to make room for big, pretty lawn in front of the new library. I listened last night to them talk of it being a wonderful place for concerts and other outside events. Is that not why the town acquired Waveny years ago ? Does the town really need the small patch of grass that the removal of a beautiful historical building will provide ? Are they really thinking that that patch of grass will be a great venue for concerts ? In the middle of town surrounded by four streets with honking horns, traffic lights and noisy trucks ? Like I said, you have Waveny with plenty of quiet open space for those types of events, with plenty of parking. Speaking of parking, the plan is to take 3/4 of the Center School parking lot away from the town for their use and force the farmers market to another location, adding multiple crosswalks to already busy streets.

    I feel this is just plain the wrong plan for the town and even though the new library would benefit many, the character of the town gets yet another piece ripped out and removed in the destruction of the 1913 library. This country is too quick in many towns to remove the old in the name of progress. It’s a shame as so much of Europe sees the value of keeping and preserving old historical buildings along with the new. It’s just shameful that New Canaan has to lose yet one more piece of its historical character, all because of narrow minded thinking.

    Yes, you can tell, I am one who loves that old 1913 library, however I’m sure it will be lost forever by closed minded people, people with no conscience unwilling to do what is really right. I hope someday when New Canaan no longer has any character, and looks like a cityscape with no trace of its history, those responsible will have some shame for what they have done to this once great town. How many other buildings that shape town character and history will fall victim to destruction ? This is nothing but sad ! I really wish more residents could look beyond the shiny jewels of the new to understand how very sad what you are losing forever in the process really is.

  6. Note to Amanda Martocchio – we CAN and deserve to have both.
    When you claim that the 1913 building was a ‘small sacrifice,’ my reply is:
    What if I went to someone’s house and took their most valuable antique and smashed it because said person was getting something new and better from West Elm? Would that be a ‘small sacrifice’ too?
    Jennifer Vollmer MLIS

  7. I do not accept the assertion that the sacrifice of the 1913 library is “necessary to execute the comprehensive architectural solution.” It is only necessary to execute this particular architectural solution—one that is premised on a dichotomy between old and new. There needs to be a genuine attempt at incorporating the old structure in a way that makes sense aesthetically and practically. Simply preserving an awkward, obsolete structure and building around it is not a compelling enough proposal. A compromise is definitely possible here.

  8. I strongly urge everyone to go and look at the Smith College Library renovation. Incorporating old and new, it is amazing renovation. Youtube has a video tour of it (see link in post). This is what we should be getting for our library. If the library wants $10million plus of taxpayer dollars, then the public needs to have a voice in this.


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