Though the New Canaan Field Club has followed town officials’ instructions in supplying more details about noise and screening, Glen Drive and Smith Ridge Road neighbors remain concerned about the impact of a proposed building expansion.
Many of those concerns, raised at Wednesday night’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, centered on what neighbors anticipate will be new, more frequent, visible and potentially loud uses of a planned additional floor and attendant outdoor deck of the pool pavilion.
Kelly Hennigan of Glen Drive during a public hearing on the Field Club’s application described as “unsettling” the figure 298—that’s how many people would be allowed by fire code to occupy the proposed new floor and deck combined (229 inside and 69 outside).
“We believe it is a change in the intensity of use of the facility and that it will negatively impact property values on Glen Drive,” said Hennigan, one of more than a dozen Field Club neighbors attending the meeting, held in the Douglas Room at Lapham Community Center.
“We are very much concerned with the additional floor and adjoining deck and based on the capacity of being able to host 300 people,” she continued. “It essentially turns a swim and tennis club into a broader, year-round, multi-season social venue, despite the claims made to cease activities by 10 o’clock in the evening, there is potential for ongoing activities and certainly multiple events to be held throughout the week and on the weekends.”
The commission voted to give itself more time—specifically, to review Hennigan’s remarks—prior to taking action. The next P&Z meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23.
Proponents of the plan, including members of the Field Club itself and their attorney, say the 1960s-era pavilion desperately needs an update and expansion in order for the club to hold indoors activities for which it currently lacks the space.
Plans call for a 65 percent increase in square footage to its existing two floors, plus a new 2,322-square-foot floor and 1,078-square-foot outdoor deck. They also would relocate a children’s wading pool toward a corner of the larger pool deck that’s closer to Glen Drive and add a circular patio around it.
The proposed building complies with the height requirement and its coverage is under what’s allowed.
Neighbors from six Glen Drive homes on July 23 filed an objection with P&Z calling for a rejection of the club’s application. Each side presented its arguments at a July 29 public hearing before P&Z.
Since then, following the commission’s recommendation that the club work to forge a set of mutually agreeable conditions for the expansion, communication between the club and neighbors has loosened to a point.
New Canaan attorney David Rucci, speaking on behalf of the club, said concessions included removal of a so-called “Wall ball” court, 10 p.m. shutoff time for lights on the pavilion, additional screening and an exterior lighting plan, additional speed bumps on the Field Club’s internal roadway and new rules about never using loudspeakers or stereo systems in the planned building or placement of such electronics in the pool area.
“We could not meet all of the requests of the neighborhood, but we have been agreeable to a lot of the things that they requested,” Rucci said.
He added: “This was not something that they [the Field Club’s long-range planning committee] just came up with. They have been working on this for a long time.”
At the meeting, Eric Rains, principal of South Norwalk-based Eric Rains Landscape Architecture LLC, detailed a screening plan that would see some pruning of branches in the woods that run between the club and Glen Drive properties, in order to create favorable conditions for new 8- to 10-foot evergreens that would grow to 10 times that size.
The discussion also delved rather deeply into “photometrics” as Emily Gorecki of Wallingford-based Gorecki Design Associates LLC described an exterior lighting plan whose “main goal in all of these was to keep the lamps and the light sources regressed as far as possible.”
That would be done through recessed down lights, small recessed step lights and four residential wall-mounted decorative lights, she said.
Commissioner David Scannell noted that although the light itself may only reach so far away from the building, that it still may be seen from an adjoining property.
Gorecki said: “The best response I have to that is it would be no different than looking at your neighbor’s house in their dining room with their lights on inside.”
Hennigan rejected that analogy in her remarks and other neighbors spoke against the pavilion expansion, including Kevin Nugent of Glen Drive.
“You mention that the intention isn’t to increase parties and increase activity,” Nugent said. “I beg to differ. And if you didn’t want that, I don’t see the need to have 2,300 square feet added up. Take your existing footprint, upgrade it and we’d all be happy with that. So I’m definitely opposed to it.”
Mary Flaherty, a Field Club member who sits on the committee putting together the pavilion expansion plan, said she understood that a major concern involved use of the new space in the pavilion. She described its primary purpose as serving children at the club during indoor activities, in conjunction with an enrichment room on a lower floor.
“I understand the concerns once the leaves come down: ‘Is this going to be party central?’ You have to think about the location of the building,” Flaherty said. “In the winter it’s going to be looking out on a pool that’s covered with tarps. This is not really going to be an attractive facility to be in during the wintertime.”
Flaherty told the commission that nonmembers would not be able to use the space under the club’s current bylaws.
P&Z Commissioner Michael Crofton asked her: “Do you understand that the neighbors feel they’re being asked to take, on trust, the fact that this will not be attractive and not be rented on a regular basis for big parties? Can you understand their point of view?”
Flaherty said she did understand that, and Rucci added that the club has an interest in fostering rather than violating that trust, as it will return in the future for more updates to its campus and wants the support of neighbors. Asked whether the club would consider conditioning its use of the proposed additional floor and deck to the activities Flaherty described, Rucci said that P&Z would need to set similar restrictions at other clubs in New Canaan and that it could be a bad precedent.