Weed and Elm: Officials Counsel Opponents of Proposed Affordable Housing Development on Permissions To Use Public Parks 


Town officials say they’ve asked the organizers of a recent gathering in Irwin Park to follow municipal guidelines for such events in the future.

According to Parks & Recreation Chair George Benington, officials were “scrambling” on the night of Friday, March 25 after learning of a potentially large meet-and-greet scheduled to be held on the afternoon of March 27 in the Weed Street park. Located near the barn at Irwin, the gathering was created “to discuss the whole Weed Street project with Karp,” Benington told members of Parks & Rec at their regular meeting, held Wednesday night at Lapham Community Center.

He referred to opposition to developer Arnold Karp’s plan for a 102-unit affordable housing project planned for the northeast corner of Weed and Elm Streets.

“The initial reports that we had were potentially 1,000 attending and we quickly contacted the organizer who assured us that was not the case, and 150 in reality there was only 30 or 40 people there on that Sunday afternoon,” Benington said. “However, we told the organizer that in the future they had to come to us beforehand for approval, that we could not be blindsided, that it’s our responsibility and if we’re finding out at 6:30 on a Friday night there’s not much we can do, because we need to have 24 hours’ notice to have a special meeting.”

He added that the organizer was “enormously cooperative and I’m sure a good citizen.”

The comments came during Benington’s regular update to the Commission.

Under Section 42-9 of the Town Code, “[o]rganizations or organized groups of more than 20 persons desiring to use the parks shall apply for a permit at least seven days prior to the day requested.” The Code also requires that “the proposed activity or use of the park will not unreasonably interfere with or detract from the general public enjoyment of the park” and “the proposed activity or use is not unreasonably anticipated to incite violence, crime or disorderly conduct.” Also under the Town Code, in provisions to be enforced by parks officials and police, people in the public parks cannot “engage in loud, boisterous, threatening, abusive, insulting or indecent language, or engage in any disorderly conduct or behavior tending to a breach of the public peace.” 

In one video at the March 27 gathering taken by a daughter of Karp, who audibly identifies herself as such, a man can be heard and seen twice telling her “[expletive] you” and then can be heard saying that he did not give permission to take his photo (in fact it is legal to take a photo or video of someone in a public place).

Benington said he spoke to the organizer of the gathering “and he said if any of the conversations got heated, he was going to disperse the crowd immediately, which he agreed to do, just so that’s not to disrupt people enjoying the park or walking their dogs or anything like that.”

Commissioner Hank Green asked whether the town can require those seeking to assemble to undergo a permitting process.

“Parks are our responsibly so we should approve it, but there is always the Constitutional right of assembly and the right to free speech,” Benington said in response. “So I wasn’t concerned about so much what they were doing, it’s just the numbers. Because let’s face it, Irwin cannot accommodate 1,000 cars. That would have been a problem.”

Commissioner Rona Siegel said that the organizer held multiple short sessions over a longer period of time instead of having everyone inside Irwin Park at once.

“In his attempt to keep it under 1,000—that is how many members are in that group or were at the time when I reached out to George, on Facebook, we were concerned that that’s a pretty large number and you need prior approval—he helped the situation by making the meetings 30 minutes at a time and he did five or six of them,” she said. “So it wasn’t a large gathering of 300 people. It was 30 or 40 five times.”

Commissioner Gene Goodman noted that those seeking to hold events in public spaces also are asked to coordinate with an administrative team from the town that helps ensure there’s no overlap and that there are elements such as police and insurance when needed.

“It’s also part of the special events process, and there are rules, for instance— yes, freedom of speech, we have to respect that—but there’s also process where you have to get your permissions to do that,” Goodman said. “To hold a rally, you can’t just hold a protest any place you want. You have to get permission to do that. There are rules in the town for special events and how many people quantify for a special event.”

Benington at one point during the discussion said, “As everybody knows, that application has been pulled so it was a non event.”

He appeared to refer to a decision made by attorney Tim Hollister, representing the applicant, to re-file the affordable housing application at Weed and Elm Streets due to a technical error with the initial filing. 

Under section 8-30g of the state statutes, developers seeking to create affordable developments in towns such as New Canaan that do not meet a standard whereby 10% of all housing stock qualifies as affordable, can appeal a local Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of such developments to the state, effectively skirting local regulations to win approval.

The town had secured four years of relief from such applications by creating a sufficient number of affordable units with the denser redevelopment of the complex at Mill Pond in 2017, and had hoped to chain a second “moratorium” from the state law by similarly redeveloping the Canaan Parish property at Route 123 and Lakeview Avenue. Yet the Canaan Parish project was delayed in early-2019 by financing problems, and then again by the pandemic, and so the town is just now putting in its application for a Certificate of Affordable Housing. Even so, such applications take at least 90 days for the state to process, and anyone can file a similar 8-30g affordable housing development application until the state grants that approval, even if the application processes with the local Water Pollution Control Authority and P&Z continue past that point.

9 thoughts on “Weed and Elm: Officials Counsel Opponents of Proposed Affordable Housing Development on Permissions To Use Public Parks 

  1. “As everybody knows, that application has been pulled so it was a non event.” The application was temporarily pulled due to a technicality with the intent to immediately refile. It is not a “non event” for town residents opposed to over development.

  2. It’s hysterical to me that Town Officials were freaking out at the idea that a 1000 extra people might suddenly descend upon Irwin Park, because that’s kind of the whole point of Save Weed Street.

  3. One thing New Canaan could benefit from, especially since Covid, is more Covid friendly public gatherings where residents can discuss issues of public importance in depth outside of formal board meetings or agendas where the conversation tends to become very stilted (not least because by convention the public Q&A period is really just public comment rather than responses from board members). If those meetings could be on the weekend that could be extra helpful as it would reach a part of our community that often cannot attend such meetings.

    Regarding this effort to create such discussion I am sorry we caused such a scramble. For the record we invited town elected officials and state reps at the same time (Friday) we let people know we would be having a community ‘meet and greet.’ Here is a link to the exact wording of the invite https://www.change.org/p/stop-karp-s-102-unit-residential-development-in-new-canaan/u/30373507. I also reached out to the police chief and provided my cell number and offered to meet with any assigned officer prior.

    This was always intended to be a chance for the community to talk. We informed any who asked that we were not going to hold banners, hand out lawn signs (we did hand out flyers – and said we would), use a microphones (or other electric devices), march down the middle of the street, leave trash or generally interfere with anybody using the park (this is why we stood in the field by the barn as few walk there). We even encouraged people who are not often in Irwin to take a walk around the park and look at the proposed walkway extension (item in the T/C meeting the previous week). The weather was perfect that day for such a gathering (mid 30s with some snow at the end) where as that Saturday was not. We were also fortunate to have all the Selectman there and half of Town Council so they could hear directly from their constituents.

    With regards to the first amendment issues (free speech and freedom of assembly) that are starting to crop up, I would encourage the town to do 2 things:
    1) Clarify any lawn sign rules – we have heard about a 12 foot rule or stone wall restriction on signs by the road. Is that in fact a municipal rule and if so, are all signs now subject to that restriction?
    2) Take a look at the town regulation sited in this article. Is 20 people a reasonable number? For example when my first graders class gets together at Mead we will have 20+ kids and 20+ adults invited making 40 people. Do we need a permit for this 7 days in advance? The NewCanaanite coffee would be another example (an event I attend and enjoy) – invites go out to many more people than the Library can hold – is that ok – of course it is you know historically how many show and if too many show they would be turned away.

    We are looking to have another event on May 1st with the New Canaan Legislators and are looking for the right venue (format is 5-10 minutes for each legislator to talk about their views on affordable housing and then open it up to public Q & A). This event would be about affordable housing in general and New Canaan and Hartford specifically – a non-political but policy orientated discussion. We wanted to get this in before the Legislature closed for this session and before election season started. If this sounds interesting to you please send us an email so we can try to determine how many people would come newcanaanneighbors@gmail.com

    As for cell phones – I am of the generation that grew up without them, but have come to enjoy their invention. If we could put the cell phones down, stop taking pictures and video’s of each other (some people who were there were really intimidated and frankly scared of having their pictures taken – how do I know that – I could see them cowering, walking quickly away from the camera and video taker and saying directly to me they were scared to have their pictures taken). Instead of all that really talk (and listen) face to face with each other especially if you have different views, I think we would all benefit, and I expect also find areas of common agreement while reducing the community temperature.

    • Thanks Giacomo.

      Though you informed the town about distributing flyers at last month’s gathering in Irwin Park, it looks like that also is not allowed under the Town Code, section 42-8 (G): “No person shall distribute any handbills or circulars or post any bills, notices or advertising matter of any kind and nature in any park.” As you look for a venue for the May 1 event, you may want to find out whether there’s a way to get an exemption from that ordinance through a permit or something similar, or else do it on private property. (It’s also interesting to wonder whether, should the town prevail in its ongoing legal effort to wrest God’s Acre from the Congregational Church and declare it a formal public property, the printed songsheet for Christmas Eve caroling—which in recent years has included a commercial element, with a “sponsor” and logo listed on it—also would be disallowed. Certainly it’s something to keep an eye on with the municipal government leadership now in place and a tendency, perhaps, to apply the rules differently in select cases.)

      Regarding our monthly New Canaanite coffee, it’s not held in a public park so it is not subject to the Town Code Chapter 42 “Parks.”

      • Thanks a few comments: With regards to the New Canaanite you are essentially limited by the fire marshal I presume – my point here is you are inviting more people than I expect can safely fit into the Library and you manage (as did we). This restraint is sort of a health safety issue – similar to restrains on free assembly i.e. when an event is no longer peaceful / safe the government can step in.
        That is an interesting rule about distribution of political orientated flyers i.e. political speach by residents in public spaces in New Canaan. I would be curious how the town gets around that rule in election season when you have organized political events in Mead Park that I have seen, candidates distributing flyers at the train station, candidates at the dump, political tents, signs and plenty of documentation at the polling places which are all on public property (why can you put election signs up at public schools on Election Day but not distribute informational flyers at public parks?).
        If the town is going to go down the road of strong enforcement on the ability of individuals and the general public to express their views and peacefully assemble, these restrictions will need to be applied to everybody (so under existing rules it would appear my first graders class would then need to ask for permission 7 days in advance to invite 20 kids plus parents to Mead Park for a class play date).
        As I said to town bodies I would encourage the town to run the restrictions by free speech lawyers – the ACLU and other people much more educated on the subject than I. Once the rules are vetted we should expect complete equity in application otherwise we are just getting discrimination based on the message and that is clearly not allowed – or perhaps it is and I was unaware…

        • Giacomo I don’t know why you conjured this comparison or why you’re pressing it here. In one case you have a gathering in a private area that is within an allowable limit and in the other you have a gathering in a public area that exceeds an allowable limit. As you know, the fire marshal attends our coffee each month and has for years. Please stick to examples of events that are—in truth, in reality, on Earth—like yours, and that appear to have received a pass for exceeding an allowable attendance limit, or find out whether the organizers of those events received express permission from the town, as I suggested above. As I hope you know, I’m not going to leave it alone when readers make demonstrably false assertions or insinuations in these threads, whether they have to do with me or someone else.

          • Here is the comparison – I don’t know how many people read the new Canaanite but let’s say it is 1000 – everybody is invited to the coffee. If everybody showed it would exceed the size capacity of the library. If the town is enforcing 20 people invites to public parks they are going to have a lot of enforcement to do.

          • That’s not a comparison Giacomo. You’re using the New Canaanite coffee arbitrarily. Why? You may as well say: Anyone can come to May Fair, but if all 332 million Americans show up to the St. Mark’s green, that would pose a parking challenge to the town of New Canaan, therefore the town is treating us anti-development residents differently when 21 people show up to Irwin Park on a Sunday and someone cites Chapter 42 of the Town Code.

            This thread is closed.

  4. Mr. Dinan- One paragraph in your article could easily be a story itself. Why is a private company using intimidation tactics against citizens who are doing nothing more than trying to defend their homes and neighborhood? Would be a great read.