"New Canaan is a town blessed with many attributes," Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Christine Wagner recently said. "This planning effort and its success will be measured by the community."

After months of deliberation from all sides, New Canaan residents were finally able to sit down and discuss the issues they believe are of utmost concern in terms of town planning at last week's public workshop. This was not a public hearing or a conventional meeting. It was a chance for the community to come together with the consultants and committee to iron out what issues were significant. About 100 residents showed up to participate in the conversation.

"I think this was an interesting way to bring people together for discussion," New Canaan resident Jane Himmel said.

During an exercise before the roundtable discussions, residents were asked to prioritize the most important issues in town. At the end, it was determined that financial impact was the most critical concern of residents followed by aesthetic character of the town, upgrading and renovating buildings and the efficiency of solutions.

Specifically, residents discussed the issue of renovating Town Hall, the library, parking concerns and other facilities around town.

During the Town Hall discussion, there was a consensus that the building is in dire straits. While residents recognized the significance of the building's location and architecture, they also believed it needed some major renovations to make it universally accessible.

"Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last two years," New Canaan resident Dan Radman said. "It would be wise to streamline and digitize all documents to save space in Town Hall."

Radman and others at the table also agreed that more analysis should be done on exploiting cutting edge technology that could save time and money.

"Any study on technology that has been done more than 2 years ago needs to be thrown away," Radman said. "Things have already changed so much since then."

Many other residents also believed that a cutting edge and universally accessible meeting hall needs to be constructed. They found it disconcerting that the elderly and handicapped have so much trouble fulfilling their civic duty because they can not get into Town Hall and especially upstairs into the board room.

The library discussion was a bit more divisive with two separate tables dedicated to the topic. Some residents believed the library should not be moved while others thought a total re-haul was necessary. But there was a consensus regarding the location and that the library should stay in the general area of its current setting. The suggestion of closing off Maple Street to allow for expansion and construction also did not sit well with residents because of the traffic and safety implications.

Parking was brought up in almost every discussion in addition to the table dedicated to the issue. Residents agreed that there should be better parking management, loading zones on Elm Street as well as metered parking on Elm Street.

"We always hear that tiered parking is off the table," LRPC member Arnold Karp said to the parking table. "The first parking study back in 1952 suggested tier parking. It is now 2011."

Still, many residents were concerned about tiered parking and its financial consequences.

The discussion regarding the fire department offered some concrete suggestions. The table agreed that the fire station, as it is now, cannot work in the future. They believed that solutions to the problem would include renovating the current location or building a satellite station either on the north side of town or in the Locust Avenue lot.

Other concerns out of the workshop included senior housing locations, lumberyard parking and utilizing the teen center and Lapham Community Center more.

"Clearly we have some issues," Wagner said at the end of the evening. "But now we can go forward and address them, prioritize them and understand their costs."

The next step for Wagner and company is to finish their scope of work and request funding for Phase II from the three town bodies starting with the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 15. The expected cost for phase II is to be somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. In the mean time, Wagner and her committee can take solace in the belief that the workshop was a positive experience.

"I think it went really well," she said. "I think they appreciated that they were able to sit down and talk about what the issues are. It was nice to see everyone come together and identify what needed fixing."