Town officials are reviewing the landscape screening between the New Canaan YMCA and a neighbor, after the latter filed a complaint that the South Avenue organization is out of compliance with its Special Permit requirements.
Putnam Road resident Roger Williams said in an Aug. 23 letter to the Planning & Zoning Commission that in nearly 30 years he’s seen the Y grow its program and facility significantly.
“What was a successful local YMCA when we moved in has become a very large regional YMCA, especially with the closures of the Stamford YMCA and Norwalk YMCA facilities,” Williams said in the letter. “Each time the Y has requested its expansions, they promised to install landscaping and screening and to maintain both to lessen its impact on the neighbors. Which it did. However, in all cases, they have not maintained that promised screening and/or landscaping and that is the issue. The neighbors universally state that the ‘Y does not keep its promises.’ ”
Williams details the terms of past landscaping plans and current state of the buffer area, and concludes: “We are not asking the Y to reduce its members, its hours, or anything else, we understand we lost that fight. But we are asking them to honor their agreement to maintain the screening that they promised as consideration for their expansion efforts. These were compromises that we were asked to accept. Please don’t ask us to compromise yet again. It is clear the Y will only do what the town tells them to do and we ask for your help in enforcing the agreements. The best way to see this is to walk along Putnam.”
The matter came before P&Z during the administrative actions agenda item at its regular meeting Tuesday, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
Town Planner Sarah Carey said that after walking and photographing the area herself, she felt the screening in place was adequate—however, Carey added that she wanted input from the Commission.
Citing a 2006 stipulation for a YMCA expansion (the language is similar to what’s included in a subsequent condition from a 2014 expansion), Carey said, “I think the main question is, and as the regulation reads, ‘any shrubs or trees that are planted or transplanted shall be replaced in kind upon death, if required for screening as determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission in their sole discretion.’ ”
P&Z member John Kriz noted that some areas of screening between Y and Williams’s property appear to have gaps.
“The idea of screening is you have a blockage and here we have some, but not all,” Kriz said.
He added, “There are a few missing bits. So I would look at if there are bushes and trees that were supposed to have been planted and for some reason are not there anymore. And the lack of that plant material is creating a gap. They need to be reinstalled.”
P&Z Chair Dan Radman referred to Williams’s letter where specific trees were removed after they were deemed dying and unsafe “but they [the Y] have never replaced them.”
“If that’s indeed the case from the 2006 approved plan, then they should be replaced,” Radman said.
Carey asked for clarification whether all 12 need to be replaced “or if six are going to fill the gap, six is fine.”
Radman said, “I think you just need to fill the gap. Obviously, since then, those trees have matured. So they’ve gotten bigger and thicker. So the intent is to fill the gap. He also brought up some low ground cover planting areas and planting beds—that needs to be cleaned up. I think that’s a simple request. That’s more of an aesthetic issue, not necessarily a screening issue. The Y should take care of that and maintain that area.”
Kriz suggested that Carey “come up with a suggested planting plan” for the area.
“I want to also be on the record that I’m very pleased that these things are being looked at more diligently by staff,” Kriz added. “I think this is very good because we want to ensure things are enforced and so good on you. We should continue to do this.”
Carey said she would work on a recommended planting plan for the Commission’s Sept. 26 meeting.
“I’ll come back next month with a suggestion and we’ll, we’ll go from there and we’ll coordinate with the Y as needed,” she said.