Reigniting an effort that dates back to this spring, New Canaan’s highest elected official said this week that the town is seeking to acquire a vacant antique home on Valley Road by eminent domain.
The town, with a funding commitment from a local nonprofit organization, had offered to acquire the four-acre parcel at 1124 Valley Road, including a prominent red-painted house, for $1.2 million. But the property’s owner, Norwalk’s First Taxing District, rejected that offer.
After applying for a demolition permit and then withdrawing it, the Taxing District later rejected the town’s offer to purchase just the house with .8 acres carved out around it, for $250,000—a figure New Canaan had arrived at following an appraisal of the property.
Now, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said, “We intend to proceed with our plan to acquire the property by our power of eminent domain.”
“They don’t need the property for water company purposes, they disrespect the house which is over 200 years old and various groups—the Historical Society, the Preservation Alliance—various town bodies want to see that house preserved and that neighborhood preserved,” Moynihan told members of local press during a media briefing Wednesday in his office at Town Hall.
Asked about the Taxing District’s stated plan to use the antique home as an “operational base” for work at the adjacent Grupes Reservoir, Moynihan said, “A caretaker. They have never had a caretaker in 70 years. All the sudden they are going to have a caretaker there?”
Though eminent domain is addressed fully in Section 8 the Connecticut General Statutes, the town would appear to be invoking Section 7-131b. It reads, in part: “Any municipality may, by vote of its legislative body, by purchase, condemnation, gift, devise, lease or otherwise, acquire any land in any area designated as an area of open space land on any plan of development of a municipality adopted by its planning commission or any easements, interest or rights therein and enter into covenants and agreements with owners of such open space land or interests therein to maintain, improve, protect, limit the future use of or otherwise conserve such open space land.”
The state Office of Legislative Research in 1999 published a paper titled “Using Eminent Domain To Take Open Space Land.”
Checking off boxes to move the eminent domain push forward, Moynihan on Monday sent a letter to the New Canaan Planning & Zoning Commission, asking the appointed body to “issue a positive report for the acquisition by the town” of the .8-acre parcel that includes the old house.
“The New Canaan Preservation Alliance and the New Canaan Historical Society have urged the town to preserve and protect the historic structure, and the New Canaan Land Trust has urged the town to acquire and preserve the property because it is adjacent to the 10.3-acre Browne Wildlife Sanctuary owned by the Land Trust,” the letter said. “I believe the acquisition of this property would be consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development, which supports historic preservation and open space.”
Under Connecticut General Statute 8-24, a municipality prior to acquiring property needs a referral from its local planning commission. P&Z is scheduled to meet Nov. 27, and Moynihan said the 8-24 report for Valley Road would be on its agenda.
His letter to P&Z concludes, “Unfortunately, efforts to negotiate a purchase of this property with the current owner, the First Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, have been unsuccessful after many months of effort. Accordingly, I am prepared to recommend that the town use its power of eminent domain to secure this acquisition in cooperation with the Land Trust and a private donor. I will be prepared to discuss the details of this process at a later time. Those details, of course, are not directly related to your review under 8-24, but I wanted you to know how we intend to proceed.”