Interim Town Planner’s Contract Extended through October

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the contract of New Canaan’s interim town planner by nine months. The 3-0 vote means Keisha Fink will work in the key land use role, advising the Planning & Zoning Commission and reviewing applications that come in both to P&Z and the Zoning Board of Appeals, through October. “Keisha is doing an excellent job as interim and acting and she is a necessary part of our process and we would like to continue her for nine months,” First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said at the board’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. He voted in favor of the extension, as did Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams.

A former land use coordinator in Westport who hold a master’s certificate in urban and regional planning, Fink succeeded Steve Palmer in the role of town planner—he worked here for less than one year—and has been at Town Hall on an interim basis since September. New Canaan launched its search for a full-time, permanent town planner at that time.

Bested in Legal Arguments, Attorneys for Grace Farms Now Pursue Changes to Zoning Regulations

Grace Farms last week conceded a key legal point in its long-running bid to secure permission for robust and varied activities at its Lukes Wood Road campus. Attorneys on behalf of Grace Farms have argued that the organization is allowed to operate not only as a religious institution, as defined in the New Canaan Zoning Regulations and as approved four years ago, but—with approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission—as a club/organization and philanthropic/charitable agency, too. Gaining those new “use designations” formed the major goal of an application filed in September on behalf of Grace Farms by attorneys with Stamford-based Robinson & Cole. Yet lawyers retained by neighbors—concerned since Grace Farms opened to the public in October 2015 about what’s actually happening there, as opposed to what had been described during public hearings—successfully argued that the regulations do not allow for more than one “principal use” at Grace Farms.

That has forced the organization now to withdraw its full application with P&Z and first pursue a text change to those regulations. Neighbors Jennifer Holme and David Markatos, who are represented by attorney Amy Souchuns of Milford-based Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff LLC, told that they are “pleased to see that the town has finally recognized that having multiple principal uses in the 4-acre, lowest density residential zone is in direct contravention of not only New Canaan’s zoning regulations and special permit criteria but also the Plan of Conservation and Development.”

The Smith Ridge Road residents noted that in an April 21 report Donald Poland, a planning consultant at New York City-based Goman+York, found that the number of principal uses Grace Farms actually is seeking is seven: foundation, church, club, restaurant, commercial conference center, public park and office building.

Grace Farms ‘Temporarily’ Withdraws P&Z Application; Neighbors Call for Compliance ‘Immediately’ with Existing Permit

Grace Farms for 16 months has exceeded its town-approved uses, and now that the organization’s leaders intend to withdraw an application—under consideration since September, to allow for ongoing and non-permitted activities at their Lukes Wood Road site—officials should instruct them to come into compliance straightaway, according to an attorney representing some neighbors of the facility. The Planning & Zoning Commission in 2013 approved a an amended special permit for Grace Farms as a religious institution, and its neighbors now “respectfully request that the Commission demand that [Grace Farms] immediately come into compliance with the terms and conditions” of that permit, attorney Amy Souchuns of Milford-based Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff said in a memo sent Friday to the town planner. Grace Farms’ “long-standing, continuing, material and well known” violations, combined with its “woefully inadequate submission, cannot be even implicitly blessed with this [P&Z] Commission’s patience,” according to Souchuns. “Therefore, the Commission must take long overdue action to address these violations with clear directives to the [Grace Farms] Foundation following any withdrawal and during the pendency of a new application.”

Grace Farms is scheduled to come before P&Z during a special meeting Tuesday night. Reached through a spokesperson, Grace Farms Foundation President Sharon Prince issued the following statement when asked about the matter by

“In order to allow more time for all parties to work collaboratively together toward a beneficial plan for the town of New Canaan, Grace Farms and neighbors, we temporarily withdrew our amended special permit application ‪on Friday evening, January 20th.