In response to comments from planning officials and concerns from some neighbors, Waveny LifeCare Network is reducing the size of a proposed residential retirement complex on Oenoke Ridge by 10,000 square feet aboveground, according to an attorney representing the nonprofit organization.
The setback from Oenoke Ridge itself will be increased from 25 to 60 feet, attorney David Rucci of New Canaan-based Lampert, Toohey & Rucci LLP said in a Dec. 12 letter to the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the setback from the Heritage Hill property line increased from 25 to 35 feet.
Also, the number of units will be reduced from 70 to 66—a reduction of 34% from an original proposal of 100—and the length of the building will be reduced by 30 feet, among other changes (see below), Rucci said in the letter, available in the public file at Town Hall.
“In addition, affordability is of great concern to us as well,” Rucci said in the letter. “The upfront costs per unit are $150,000 for a one-bedroom (20% of $750,000) and $170,000 for a two-bedroom unit (20% of $850,000). The 80% balance of the funds ($600,000 or $680,000) are held in escrow solely to provide future care for the seniors, or to be left for their estate. These funds assure the residents and their families that they have the necessary funds to cover their post-acute care needs.”
P&Z is expected to take up the a third public hearing on Waveny’s application during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Plans call for the merging of three lots located between the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church green and New Canaan Historical Society campus that would total 3.5 acres together, and construction of a senior housing complex to be operated as an independent living piece of the wider Continuing Care Retirement Community or “CCRC”—an acronym that some are using in place of the proposed building itself. The application also includes proposed text changes to the New Canaan Zoning Regulations.
Those advocating for what has been dubbed “The Oenoke” have pointed to the need for more assisted living options in New Canaan, the town’s aging population, the fact that focus groups informed the specific Oenoke Ridge proposal, the suitability of the site and ways that the plan reflects what’s outlined in P&Z’s guiding document. Opponents have said the complex would be overly large, would bring unwanted additional traffic and is out of character with the area. They’ve also said the proposed changes to the zoning regulation amount to “spot zoning.”
P&Z began giving feedback to Waveny during an informational session in July, and the commissioners as well as neighbors and their attorneys have weighed in on the application in two subsequent public hearings.
Town Planner Lynn Brooks Avni on Dec. 6 emailed Rucci to share thoughts from P&Z members, including whether a more feasible “alternative design solution” could be found and whether St. Mark’s might sell Waveny some of its less conspicuous property below-grade for development. If Waveny could acquire St. Mark’s property that could reduce the building to two stories, the email said.
“The challenges with this application are related to the size and density of the proposed use on a site that does not support the use,” Brooks relayed in the email summarizing P&Z members’ thoughts, also available in the public file at Town Hall. “Realizing that the site/use does not meet our zoning requirements, the proposed use deserves special consideration based on the benefits our community will realize on many levels. This deserves a rethinking of the planning and design of the project while exploring alternatives that will bring the design into closer alignment with our regulations and the applicant’s needs.”
In a memo to P&Z ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled public hearing, Brooks Avni noted that commissioners indicated the “mass, scale and density of the building seemed a bit overwhelming,” and said the applicant might consider breaking the single large building into smaller ones or the appearance of such.
“For instance, something that looks like townhomes or cluster homes, which may fit better with the character of the town” and appear less dense, she said in the memo.
“The green at St. Mark’s is both a blessing and a curse in this case,” Brooks Avni said in the memo. “On one hand, it provides much needed relief from an intensely developed site. On the other hand, the site will look more intense because of the relief. The green will also provide a double view shed of the project—not only will the front lot line view be apparent to those driving by, but the side will also be very visible because of the green at St. Mark’s.”
Other changes to the project include reducing coverage from 45% to 37%, according to Rucci, and increasing the landscaped area from 25% to 50%.
“Redesigned the exterior finishes to add more color, texture, and to break up the building’s view path,” he said in the letter. “We have consulted with local architectural firms and reviewed the Commission’s comments on the Merritt Village facade.”
Some of those who took to the podium at the Nov. 19 hearing to voice concerns about the massing and location of the proposed complex were residents or owners of condos on Heritage Hill Road, down a hill from the back of the site. Others said they lived on Oenoke Lane or along Oenoke Ridge. Rucci in the letter referred to a group composed of some of those neighbors, saying it was “unfortunate that the Oenoke Neighbor Association data has not yet been submitted for review.”
“We would have appreciated being given that opportunity to respond to any additional concerns in real time at the hearing,” he said.
Meanwhile, P&Z continues to receive letters from the community, both in favor and against the widely divisive proposal.
One letter in favor of Waveny, received Dec. 13 by P&Z and authored by Nick Yanicelli, makes the case that a private residential property at 65 Oenoke Ridge owned by the abutting Historical Society that would form part of the complex’s larger parcel should be sold to the applicant and will be sold at some point in any case.
The debate over “whether we building senior housing on Oenoke or somewhere else or nowhere is, in my opinion, myopic, because it does not address the unintended consequences of the status of the 65 Oenoke property if the CCRC is not approved.”
Yanicelli said he is a member of the New Canaan Museum and Historical Society, though he wrote the letter only as a private citizen, not on behalf of the organization.
“Reasonable people can disagree,” he said in the letter. “Notwithstanding the legal articles and comments presented in favor of building the Waveny CCRC, it is acknowledged that St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the Heritage Hill Apartment Group, other groups and some 1,400 residents have signed a petition opposing the proposed site on Oenoke Ridge. After all, this is America, home of Free because of the Brave, and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”
In a Dec. 11 email to Brooks Avni, an attorney representing St. Mark’s, Steve Finn of Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky LLP, called for the applicant to submit new documents ahead of the next hearing, including amendments to the proposed text change to New Canaan’s zoning regulations.
“I want to go on record, that in my opinion it violates the rules of fundamental fairness to allow repeated amendments to an application for text changes without allowing an opposing party to be heard on the amendments AND that many amendments would require new public notice to be published in the newspaper and other procedural requirements in order to comply with the General Statutes and case law,” Finn said in the email.