Saying her objection letter came in too late, the town building official denied a local woman’s bid to stave off demolition of a derelict structure at the New Canaan Nature Center. The Feb. 25 letter that Andrea Sandor sent to the town, objecting to the planned demolition of a ca.-1900 greenhouse, came in four days after a deadline specified in a local ordinance, according to Town Building Official Brian Platz.
Under the ordinance, “If the Town Building Official has received no pertinent written objection to the application within 15 days following publication of the notice in the newspaper, then the Building Official shall issue the demolition permit, provided all other requirements of the State Demolition Code have been satisfied.”
The Nature Center’s notice was published Feb. 6, meaning the objection period expired Feb. 21, Platz told Sandor in an email obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
The volunteer municipal body responsible for studying historical buildings in New Canaan wants to double the amount of time it may delay the demolition of such structures. The Historical Review Committee voted 5-0 last week to recommend upping the demolition delay period from 90 to 180 days. It currently “is not an adequate incentive for an applicant to seriously consider alternative solutions to demolition,” Committee member Laszlo Papp said during the appointed group’s Sept. 13 meeting, held at the New Canaan Historical Society. “And 180 days possibly will provide more incentive to keep, repurpose or maintain the historical property,” he said.
A newly created committee designed to help residents who may be struggling to maintain their properties met met for the first time last week to elect officers and discuss its work. The Blight Review Board will help homeowners with problems such as overgrown yards, unraked leaves or deteriorating houses so they can correct those conditions rather than get punished for them, according to Chief Building Official Brian Platz, who had advocated for creation of the appointed body. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan presided over the meeting, held Thursday at Town Hall. During the 45-minute meeting, Brock Saxe was unanimously elected chairman and Paul Tully secretary. Saxe is a commerical real estate professional with Halstead and Tombrock Corporation, while Tully is a real estate and construction professional.
New Canaan is seeing an increasing number of food trucks pulling into town parks, alongside the new athletic fields by the Waveny water towers and elsewhere, to the point where it’s affecting local businesses, officials say, and creating a need for a formal policy with teeth. Though town officials have dealt with eager food truck vendors for years—at times running them out of public parks (where they’re not allowed), pointing them toward a “Peddlers” or “Itinerant Vendors” license that’s outlined in the Town Code, or even inventing rules about how licensed trucks can only go to construction sites—there’s no ordinance on the books that limits when and where those vendors can go, and no fine or enforcement agency to back up a formal policy in any case.
“We are getting kind of overrun with food trucks and we don’t really have something specifically in place,” New Canaan Director of Health Jen Eielson told members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee at its meeting last week. “It’s starting to run more rampant and then they [food truck vendors] want to have more trucks, and we are trying to limit it because we are getting flack from the businesses in town that pay a lot of money in rent, so I understand their plight and it’s not really fair to them.”
Nearby towns that are similar to New Canaan have rules in their Charters or zoning regulations that are enforced by police or other agencies in the municipality, Eielson said.
While New Canaan for specific events, such as the Family Fourth at Waveny or the Sidewalk Sales downtown, has food trucks come in as caterers—complete with license checks and health inspections, as well as agreed-upon terms of hours and location—open questions remain about what types of trucks the town may want and what sorts of checks should be required of the businesspeople that operate them.
Councilman Steve Karl, a committee co-chair, said there’s “definitely a need” for either a beefed-up “Itinerant Vendors” ordinance or new one.
“Any time we have something like this where you see it’s growing, it’s up to us in the town to control it,” he said. Karl added: “You look at all of the good work that Baskin Robbins does in terms of charity and volunteering and all of the stuff that goes into having a business, and they pay rent to be there, and to have somebody pull up in a truck and take some business away from someone like that, that is a pretty big deal. And I think all of New Canaan and all of the taxpayers they would side on Baskin Robbins’ side.”
Ultimately, the Committee called on Eielson, with help from Administrative Officer Tom Stadler, who also deals with food trucks, to propose some language that the group could bring to the full Town Council.
Saying it would be best if a volunteer group of residents oversaw the sensitive and nuanced process of handling a blight complaint, New Canaan’s chief building official on Monday night proposed the creation of a new municipal committee.
Brian Platz said that in his position, he must be absolutely consistent in how he handles complaints about blighted properties in New Canaan, but such rigidity does not allow him to address on case-by-case basis situations where, for example, a resident has fallen on hard times. For that reason and others, Platz said, a Blight Committee such as other towns have created is a better vehicle for fielding the complaints.
“I think that if [town residents] were to be, for want of better word—‘judged’—on the condition of their property, it may be better received by a jury of their peers rather than a building inspector who is an enforcement agent of the town,” Platz told members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee during a meeting held at Town Hall. “Once I knock on their door and introduce myself, they already, understandably, get a little defensive. And I have had situations where I knocked on a woman’s door and she had gone on chemotherapy. She could barely answer the door and was fighting cancer, and she was well into her 70s, lived alone.