Despite Court’s Decisions, Lawsuits Tie Up Restoration of Ponus Ridge Chapel

Though a judge this month found that town zoning officials acted properly in granting a variance designed to allow for the restoration of a long-neglected chapel on Ponus Ridge, the historic structure’s fate is unclear, as it remains tied up in multiple lawsuits brought by a New Canaan woman. In a decision issued April 11, Superior Court Judge Charles Lee affirmed the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals’ unanimous vote three years ago to allow for the rehabilitation of the legally nonconforming, 1911-built Ponus Ridge Chapel (see Lee’s full decision at the end of this article). Plans call for the conversion of the dilapidating structure into a guesthouse by its neighbors to the south, the Hayeses, with an easement to the chapel property at 424 Ponus Ridge for a parking space and septic system (at .14 acres, the chapel’s lot is itself too small). The president of the association that owns the building, now deceased, in 2012 had entered into an agreement with the Hayeses whereby the property would be transferred to them, in a complicated arrangement also involving New Canaan Library, following the organization’s dissolution. However, another member of the Ponus Ridge Chapel and Community Association—a group that hasn’t met in decades (the chapel itself hasn’t been used in 40-plus years)—neighbor Elizabeth Weed of 434 Ponus Ridge, filed two lawsuits designed to halt the proposed transaction.

Ponus Ridge Woman Files Lawsuit Appealing Neighbor’s Expansion Plans

Saying a neighbor’s plan to expand an antique home—coupled with plans to acquire the adjacent, long-disused Ponus Ridge Chapel and convert it into a private dwelling—would diminish home values in the area, a town woman is appealing a recent decision by the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals. Elizabeth Weed in a new lawsuit is seeking to nullify a variance granted Nov. 3 to her next-door neighbors on Ponus Ridge, the Hayeses. The variance would allow them to build an addition to the rear of their home within what technically is the front yard setback—in fact, the entire ca. 1840 house is located within that setback (many 18th and 19th Century homes are situated very close to the road).

Ponus Ridge Homeowners Seek to Build Two-Story Addition on ca. 1840 House

Zoning officials on Monday will hear from a Ponus Ridge homeowner seeking to remodel partly and build a two-story addition to their antique house that would include a new master bedroom. The owners of 394 Ponus Ridge, between Ponus Ridge Chapel and corner of Davenport Ridge Road, are seeking a variance to the required 45-foot front yard setback for reconstruction of an existing screened porch and to build an addition to their ca. 1840 home to accommodate their family’s burgeoning interests and activities while preserving the character of their home and changing minimally its appearance from the street. The current zoning regulations would put the front yard setback more than halfway into the house itself, they say. Reached by, Brendan Hayes said that the family’s goal is to maintain and respect the historic nature of the house and property.

Once a Community Hub, Ponus Ridge Chapel at the Center of Lawsuits

“Do you remember … The New Year’s Eve gathering which consisted of service followed by social and refreshments in the basement? … The mid-week prayer meeting in the first meeting house on Davenport Ridge—a small dog wandered in and up to where Mr. Levi Weed was kneeling in prayer, the dog jumped up on Mr. Weed’s back, sniffed his head and then jumped down and wandered out again … The time Ann Augusta Scofield became hungry during service so left long enough to go to Polly Weed’s kitchen and get something to eat?”

These are some of the warm, neighborly details featured on an early page of the Nov. 4, 1951 pamphlet “The Ponus Ridge Chapel Memorial Program”—a program and event marking the 40th anniversary of a beloved structure that served as both church and community center for scores of New Canaanites. Up to and for more than a decade after that anniversary, the 1,400-square-foot chapel on Ponus Ridge—just a few hundred feet north of Davenport Ridge Road—functioned as gathering place for important community events: church services, Sunday School, group dinners, fairs, christenings, weddings, a funeral, dancing and art classes, holiday parties and meetings of the Ladies’ Aid Society, Farm Bureau and Fish and Game League. Dilapidated now from years of neglectful disuse, its grounds overgrown and verdure encroaching on the fieldstone structure itself, Ponus Ridge Chapel hardly fits the image of a community hub it once held.