Town Rejects Petition from ‘New Canaan Residents Against Destructive Development’

Saying a formal application has not yet been filed for a large multi-family development in the neighborhood, the town is denying a petition from residents in the area of Brushy Ridge Road to revoke a permit for a 16-foot-wide driveway. 

According to a group of neighbors calling itself ‘New Canaan Residents Against Destructive Development,’ town officials knew for years that the owner of vacant parcels at 17 and 23 Hill St. (also known as lots 72 and 812) intended to construct a 101-unit affordable housing complex there. In filing a March 17 petition with the town to revoke the permit, the property’s owner— Hill Street-72 LLC—“submitted inaccurate and conflicting information regarding the area of disturbance in the wetlands” when seeking the wider driveway four years ago. The property owner also “has engaged in construction activities on the Property that exceed the limitations of the Permit and the conditions on which it was granted,” the group’s attorney, Frank Silvestri of Westport-based Verrill Dana LLP, said in the petition. Yet, according to Town Attorney Ira Bloom of Westport-based Berchem Moses PC, the claim “fails for two basic reasons.”

“First, no application for a multi-family development has been filed in the four plus years since the crossing was approved,” Bloom wrote in a response dated April 8 that was obtained by 

“As you know, the law is clear that the Commission is not permitted to speculate beyond what is provided,” Bloom said in the response letter.

‘Our Volunteer Commissioners Deserve Better’: Judge Rules Against Town in Lawsuit Brought by Neighbors of Grace Farms

A judge this month ruled against the town in its decision to uphold the issuance of a zoning permit for an interior renovation of a former residential dwelling at Grace Farms.

Neighbors of the Lukes Wood Road organization in July 2019 appealed the town zoning enforcement officer’s decision to issue the permit, saying, in part, that the Planning & Zoning Commission should have been consulted—or even designated as the deciding body—as to whether the work amounted to a disallowed, more intense use of the “Operations Center” at Grace Farms.

If so, that could amount to a violation of the organization’s existing special permit, according to neighbors David Markatos and Jennifer Holme, represented in the legal matter by attorney Amy Souchuns of Stamford-based Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff LLC. Yet the Zoning Board of Appeals—without specifying why—denied their appeal by a 4-1 vote at its November 2019 meeting, prompting the neighbors to sue the ZBA the same month. On May 10, after about 18 months of litigation, Judge Marshall Berger of the state Superior Court in Hartford ruled against the ZBA (and Grace Farms Foundation, which joined the suit as a defendant after filing a motion to intervene in January 2020). In a 15-page decision that is at times strongly worded, Berger noted that the ZBA’s role “was limited and it was up to the [Planning & Zoning] commission to decide if the construction constituted a violation” (his italics). “Under that reasoning, after all the time the board devoted to this issue and the time and expense of this appeal, should this court dismiss the appeal, the [P&Z] commission might thereafter decide that the construction did indeed constitute a violation of the special permit thereby promoting a new enforcement action.

Congregational Church on God’s Acre: ‘It Is Our Church Cemetery’

Though the town’s highest elected official said recently that he doesn’t understand the Congregational Church of New Canaan’s claim regarding ownership of God’s Acre, an email obtained by shows that the church’s pastor had outlined the position to him early this summer. The Rev. Chapin Garner told First Selectman Kevin Moynihan in a June 9 email, “Our understanding is this: God’s Acre is not only a cemetery, it is our church cemetery.”

“Indeed, it is named ‘God’s Acre’ because that is the 17th century term for a church burial ground,” Garner said in the email, whose copied recipients included Town Attorney Ira Bloom, attorney Gabriella Kiniry, a congregant who has advised the church, and Nick Williams, a selectman who also is a a member the church. “We have had pastors and parishioners buried on that hill, and it is our sacred obligation to protect that hallowed ground in which they were laid to rest,” Garner’s email continued. “We do not want anything built on our ancient burial ground—not a terrace and not sidewalks. Not only is that our desire, but we strongly believe Connecticut State law prohibits any construction on an ancient burial ground.”

He referred to a state law that prohibits towns from using ancient burial grounds for anything other than burials.