P&Z to Merritt Village Developer: Retaining Wall Won’t Actually Be Screened, It Needs a Fieldstone Veneer

After reviewing plans for a major building project on the edge of downtown New Canaan, planning officials say, a widely criticized faux stone retaining wall will not be completely screened, and therefore must be addressed in some other way. The Merritt Village retaining wall that is materializing along Park Street is “aesthetically underwhelming and not in keeping with the spirit of your description of the project and the drawings that you originally presented as part of your application,” Planning & Zoning Chairman John Goodwin said in a Nov. 20 letter to the project’s developer, Arnold Karp. 

Sent on behalf of the entire Commission, the letter says that the faux stone finish on the retaining walls were not referenced during public hearings on the Merritt Village project and that the structures require “at a minimum, fieldstone veneer.”

“You are certainly correct that you are in the early stages of your project and you noted that ultimately these structures would be ‘hidden’ by landscaping,” the letter said. “After reviewing the plans on record and considering the extent of the structures, we are not convinced the faux look will be completely screened. We believe the appropriate solution would be the application of a 4-inch thick fieldstone veneer directly to the face of the existing retaining walls.

P&Z To Merritt Village Builder: We Thought the Retaining Walls Would Have Different Materials

Saying they’re disappointed that the materials they thought a local builder would be using for a retaining wall are not what has materialized along Park Street, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night asked the developer of Merritt Village whether similar “faux-looking” structures could be expected. 

Weeks after addressing the matter of the retaining wall with New Canaan’s legislative body, Arnold Karp of Karp Associates came before P&Z to during the appointed group’s regular meeting. 

According to Karp, a second retaining wall above and behind the one that’s caused so much fuss is to be built, and there’s also one that curves around where motorists will enter Merritt Village from Park Street. 

Even so, Karp said, the retaining walls will be capped and partially hidden by plantings, and the buildings themselves—which feature natural stone and cedar shingles—will be the focal point for passersby. “I have to get a little more of the project on down the line before I have 18,000 architects who live in town telling me how it is going to look,” Karp told the Commission during its meeting, held at Town Hall. 

As P&Z itself includes architects Laszlo Papp, Dan Radman and Kent Turner, Karp added, “I wasn’t counting anybody on the commission in the 18,000,” drawing laughter from the room. Radman said, “But it’s only these three that you have to worry about.”

Merritt Village, a 110-unit apartment and condo complex approved by P&Z two years ago, following several months of hearings and a record-high number of conditions, is still about 18 months away from completion. 

Even so, Chairman John Goodman said that P&Z has received “a fair amount of feedback from the community” regarding the retaining wall, and therefore asked Karp and Karp Associates COO Paul Stone to address the matter. 

Karp said he takes P&Z’s comments to heart. 

“It’s not like I’m going to build this and disappear,” Karp said. “I’m here for the duration.”

Speaking of the retaining wall in its current state, he added: “We are looking at something that against this backdrop is very noticeable. They are not finished.

Letter: Mature Trees Cut Down at Merritt Village Project 

The eastern white pine in the photo will be cut down this week. The pine tree sits on the Park Mead North condominium property. When I asked Park Mead’s property manager, Westford Property Management, the reason for cutting down the tree, I was told that the removal of this standalone pine is due to the current weakness of the tree, probably accelerated by Merritt Village’s decision (the adjoining property owner) to remove all of their trees, which acted as a buffer or windshield that protected the eastern white pine in the past. When you remove a large number of trees to clear a site for construction, you expose the remaining trees to new conditions. Sudden increases in amounts of sunlight and wind will shock many of the remaining trees.

Did You Hear … ?

Chef Luis Lopez, known locally for his eponymous restaurant on Elm Street, has been seen cooking in the open kitchen at Spiga on Main. ***

After school Wednesday, a man was seen trying to enter cars in a New Canaan High School parking lot, according to a communication from NCHS Principal Bill Egan. “We do not believe he was successful, nor do we anticipate his return,” Egan said in an email. “However, please make sure you lock your cars on campus. I would keep them locked before and after school.