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An open letter to the Planning & Zoning Commission

Published 10:18 am, Monday, August 5, 2013
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I am one of the neighbors addressed by the New Canaan town planner in his July 9 letter announcing a public hearing to add a proposed Business Zone D and amend the zoning map and regulations. His letter indicates that at some unspecified future date "we intend to take a `neighborhood' look at many areas of the downtown including the proposed Zone D area and determine the best long-term strategies for each area."

At last Tuesday's meeting, I stated that this was "exactly backwards." It would be better to consider the long-term strategy for this area first, and then adopt a zoning plan that helps to achieve the long-term strategy.

At the meeting many neighbors raised a wide range of concerns regarding traffic, safety, drainage and other issues. The magnitude of these issues is uncertain in light of a variety of additional permitted usage. It was striking that no one at the meeting acted as an advocate to address the issues raised by neighbors, nor even to argue for and explain any need for this zoning change, nor any need to do anything immediately. The public was left in the dark regarding these questions. More thoughtful planning should seriously consider the issues and public concerns re: Zone D.

The town planner suggested a need in that the present variety or hodgepodge (my words not his) of different zones could be better managed by combination into a single zone that would be more restrictive in some respects. Actually, the newly proposed zone adds and expands permitted uses in some parts of the area. Personally, I consider it undesirable to create a new and larger hodgepodge zone. This flies in the face of any desire to continue moving toward or maintaining New Canaan's vaunted traditional "village" atmosphere.

Many of us were frustrated by other agenda items that forced us to wait from 7 p.m. until nearly 11 p.m. to express concerns; a number of people were forced to leave without talking. It was implied that there would be another public hearing opportunity, yet public hearings have now been closed, with the prospect of a final vote at the Aug. 27 P&Z meeting. In addition to the frustrating lack of any reason to take immediate action, or any action at all, there were no questions or comments from board members. This lack of any real dialogue between the commission and the public is unfortunate. The commission should reopen the Zone D public hearing, and also consider that the wisest course of action may be to reject the proposed zone for now.

I might tend to favor re-zoning, provided that New Canaan first develops a vision and desirable goals for the area, supported by necessary traffic and drainage studies, rather than putting a less desirable hodge-podge zone in place now. In this way, New Canaan could better influence the character of neighborhood development in this area and be consistent with the desire of the town planner for "the best long-term strategies."