‘Protest’ vs. ‘Public Referendum’: Clarifying P&Z Rules for Opponents of Merritt Village

Several residents concerned about the proposed Merritt Village development have come to local officials with an idea of launching what they’re calling a public “referendum” on the divisive project should the Planning & Zoning Commission approve it, the town planner has confirmed. Presumably, the idea is to push back on a future decision from the appointed body—the same way, say, a resident may pursue a referendum following an appropriation made by the Town Council. Yet, as Town Planner Steve Kleppin said when asked about the prospect with respect to Merritt, the referendum process does not apply to P&Z decisions. P&Z is governed largely by state statute, “not necessarily from local jurisdiction,” he said. “I believe it is set up that way so an applicant can pursue applications in any municipality and follow the same sets of procedures in terms of the timeframes and authority of the [P&Z] Commission,” Kleppin said.

Did You Hear … ?

The Planning & Zoning Commission at its most recent meeting decided to forego approving two signs for new businesses that had been submitted to the town (see photos above). Commissioner Elizabeth DeLuca, head of P&Z’s sign committee, said that a sign for Spiga, the new Italian restaurant opening on Main Street, was meant to be “burnt orange” according to its application “but it appears to be a very bright orange color.”

“They put it up,” DeLuca said at the July 26 meeting. “It’s up. It’s there.”

Though P&Z did not specify just why, the group also forewent voting either way on a new sign for the New Canaan Psychic, to open at 179 Cherry St. Regarding Siga, Town Planner Steve Kleppin noted window signage and said that it is more attractive than banners inside downtown businesses that hang behind the glass.

‘It Seems Like the Ancillary Uses Have Taken Over’: Town To Investigate Claims That Grace Farms Has Run Afoul of Permitted Uses

New Canaan’s senior zoning enforcement officer will find out whether Grace Farms is exceeding the permitted use of its property—as suspected by some local planning officials and asserted by several neighbors—and, depending on the organization’s response, kick-start a process to resolve what has quickly become a sensitive and closely followed matter now before the town. What will result from Town Planner Steve Kleppin’s investigation is unclear—whether Grace Farms works with its neighbors on a mutually agreeable plan, seeks to modify its operating permit, faces fines or a cease-and-desist order, denies claims that it’s overstepping or changes its activities to conform to what’s been approved, officials said Tuesday night. For Kleppin, the situation is unique in that “it’s not like I’m investigating a complaint that somebody built a shed in their backyard and I go out and see the shed and say, ‘Here’s the shed.’ ”

“The only tricky thing is that if I start an enforcement action—I could do a simple letter stating that in my opinion you have exceeded [certain] conditions based upon this action and this action at an event held [on such-and-such a date],” Kleppin told members of the Planning & Zoning Commission during their regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “To proceed along that track and ultimately, if I were to issue, for example, a cease-and-desist order or proceed with another enforcement action, they can take an appeal to my determination to the Zoning Board of appeals. At which point, you [P&Z] are no longer in the process.

Officials: Activities at Grace Farms May Be Inconsistent with Town-Issued Permit

Through its diverse activities, Grace Farms may be running afoul of the specific terms and conditions that accompanied its hard-won approval from the town three years ago, officials said this week. Back in 2013, when the Planning & Zoning Commission approved an amended special permit for Grace Farms, town officials required additional plantings on the site due to discussion about “activities occurring at the site,” according to Town Planner Steve Kleppin. “We knew that Grace’s vision of the property was evolving,” Kleppin said Monday during a special meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, held at Town Hall. “We knew the kinds of things they wanted to do. While they’re all great, they may not necessarily be consistent with the terms and conditions of the special permit, and also with what the commission though they were approving back in 2013.”

The comments came as the ZBA took up a separate though related matter: A neighbor filed an appeal to Grace Farms’ Certificate of Occupancy, saying one condition tied to the organization’s zoning permit had not been met.

‘It Would Be An Illegal Approval’: Neighbor’s Attorney Argues Against Rebuilt 2-Family Dwelling on Oak Street

Town officials must reject an application to rebuild a two-family home on Oak Street because it doesn’t comply with New Canaan’s zoning regulations, would decrease the value of a neighbor’s property by looming over it and would be rejected by a court on appeal, an attorney told the Planning & Zoning Commission last week. The proposed structure at 50-52 Oak St.—centerpiece of a plan to replace the aging duplex there now—fails to meet two of the five criteria outlined in the New Canaan Zoning Regulations (see page 42) for new two-family dwellings in the Residential B zone and in any case requires a variance rather than a special permit because, after the house there is razed, the new one would be nonconforming, according to Eric Bernheim, a partner at Westport-based Halloran & Sage LLP. Criteria for a special permit include consideration of property values, and—as Bernheim’s clients, the neighbors directly to the east, the Crowleys of 64 Oak St. expressed at a public hearing last month—because the rear unit of the proposed new dwelling would loom taller over their backyard, it would devalue their property, he told members of P&Z. “It doesn’t take a lot of discussion to understand that having a two-family home that towers over your property and backyard and destroys the privacy you have and will impair value,” Bernheim said at the meeting, held April 26 at Town Hall.