Saying a new New Canaan Library will benefit residents, businesses and the wider community, the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted 6-3 to approve the organization’s rebuilding plan. The proposed new library also is consistent with many tenets of the major document that guides development in town, P&Z Chair John Goodwin said during the appointed body’s special meeting, held via videoconference. The approval includes a condition that the library return to P&Z in four months with a proposal for appropriately commemorating the original 1913 building and a 1936 addition—a requirement that is a “risk” with respect to the structures but also an “opportunity” for the library to be creative, Goodwin said. “It’s a creative team over there,” Goodwin said during the Commission’s 4.5-hour meeting. “Now is it 120 days from now, we get options we don’t like?
During their seventh hearing on New Canaan Library’s application to rebuild its facility, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission last week set up a vote between two options regarding the fate of what remains of an original library building. One of them, tagged “Option A” and developed mainly by P&Z Chair John Goodwin, would allow for the library project to commence and, one year in, the organization would present options to P&Z to “appropriately commemorate” the 1913 building and 1936 addition. “It is the assumption that significant aspects of the 1913 and/or 1936 building will be preserved in some meaningful way on the site,” according to the language of the draft approval, obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request. The other, “Option B,” developed mainly by Commissioner Dan Radman, calls for construction to be put off until the library has submitted a plan to “incorporate and integrate” the east and north facades and roof of the old buildings so that they’re “maintained on the site in a location satisfactory to the Commission.” If there’s “no feasible way” to do that, the project can start without a plan for preservation, under draft Option B.
As drafted for the start of the meeting, neither scenario meets the standard set by a preservation group that has said the 1913 building must be restored—that is, its southern and western walls re-closed—and remain in place. Library officials last month said they’d be willing to preserve and move the Main Street-facing portico and facade of the 1913 building to the western property line.
The language in both options is expected to undergo revision based on the commissioners’ discussion at the 4.5-hour meeting, held June 29 via videoconference.
Library officials last week unveiled renderings of what they’re calling an offer of compromise to preservationists who are opposed to the demolition of a century-old structure as part of a plan to rebuild the downtown facility.
Moving the 1913 building’s portico and the Main Street-facing wall to the western border of the library’s campus could cost about $600,000 to $700,000, Executive Director Lisa Oldham told members of the Board of Finance during their regular meeting, held June 8 both in person and via videoconference. The library is “trying to get to a compromise solution that would respectfully honor the past, memorialize meaningfully the original library and not sacrifice the green, given the importance of the green to the overall campus,” Oldham told the finance board. At past public meetings, the library has said it would memorialize the 1913 building and its 1930s addition with professional photos, a limited edition commemorative book and works of art featuring the original structure that would become part of a permanent collection on display in the new facility. Library officials also have said in the past that granite from the 1913 facade would be used in a retaining wall for the green overlooking Cherry and Main Streets. The new proposal would see the portico and wall, at a depth of about eight feet, moved to the property line that the library shares with the gas station, New Canaan Library Board of Trustees President Bob Butman said.
Members of the Police Commission said at their most recent meeting that they need more time to decide whether a proposed new crosswalk connecting Center School Lot with the main entrance of a rebuilt New Canaan Library should be raised or level with the roadway.
Library officials have proposed that the crosswalk spanning Maple Street should be raised not only to accommodate those using six disabled spaces in the parking lot but also as a traffic calming and safety measure for the 400 mothers and children who use the facility each day. In addition, four disabled spaces that the library now plans to install on-site are around the back of the planned new building and further away from the entrance than the disabled spaces in the Center School Lot, officials told the Commission at its April 21 meeting, held via videoconference. “Where we would have to put the spaces on the library side [of Maple Street] is sort of around the back of the building a little bit, and it’s more for accessibility to the library green and if there are employees at some point in time who would have access to it, because that’s where you would typically go in as an employee,” attorney Brian Smith of Robinson + Cole, representing the library, told the Commission. “It also obviously serves the purpose of providing the four spaces needed, but by changing and adding and rearranging the six spaces in Center School Lot, we would be providing more accessibility altogether, which we think is the proper thing to do.”
New signage, and a pedestrian-activated “rapid rectangular flashing beacon” that alerts motorists to those using the crosswalk—similar to those located at Weed and Elm Streets—also are planned for area. Yet there could better ways to ensure that motorists are driving slowly on Maple Street, and given that the library’s applications for its new building are still before the Planning & Zoning Commission, meaning it’s not certain just how on-site disabled parking will be handled, Police Commission Chair Paul Foley suggested the appointed body wait at least one month before signing off on the new raised crosswalk.
Silvermine Road residents on Tuesday night voiced concerns to members of the Planning & Zoning Commission about a neighbor’s application to convert their garage into a home office and medical examination area. Granting Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, a pediatrician, a Major Home Occupation permit to allow for a small staff to work out of the office and see additional patients would bring unwanted traffic to a narrow shared driveway and create a safety hazard for the many children who live in the area and play outside, according to several parents who addressed P&Z during its regular meeting. There are already cars that go up the driveway and “occasionally make a wrong turn into our house which is to be expected,” said Dan Oliver, who shares a driveway with the Berchelmanns.
“It happens occasionally, and obviously we are very concerned about increased traffic and increased wrong turns into our area,” he said. “And once you come into our house, you can’t really turn around unless you go past our house, up into our larger area to turn around. So it’s not easy to back up.