NEW CANAAN - For a moment during the First Selectman’s unofficial “State of the Town” address to the New Canaan Men’s Club on Friday, Jan. 6, there were audible boos in St Mark Church’s Morrill Hall.

The jeering was directed not at First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III, but at Michael Nowacki, the outspoken resident who ran against Mallozzi for the position of First Selectman in 2015.

“Why do you continue to allow the Board of Education to supply their budgets on an estimate to estimate basis, knowing how flawed that is,” Nowacki asked Mallozzi during a Q&A following Mallozzi’s address. “Are you going to answer that question?” Nowacki pressed, to which Mallozzi said “next,” and stated that because the two were in litigation it wouldn’t be appropriate to answer. A smattering of boos broke out in the crowd.

Nowacki — who was repeating a similar allegation he made against the Board of Education’s at a recent Town Council meeting, and who sued Mallozzi and various other town officials in 2016 — exited the hall.

The interaction came after an address — which Mallozzi instead referred to as a “conversation with the First Selectman” — in which the First Selectman addressed issues such as the Lower Fairfield County’s continued water shortage, Hartford’s troubling finances, redevelopment, and crime.

On redevelopment, specifically the recently approved Merritt Apartments and the threat of developers utilizing the state’s affordable housing loophole to build without adherence to local zoning regulations, Mallozzi said New Canaan is lucky to have the kind of debates that have swirled in recent months.

“There’s a lot of towns that actually wish they were having a debate,” Mallozzi said. “There are towns that don’t have zoning meetings because there’s nothing to talk about. New Canaan is still a desirable location. Why? Because we’ve invested in our town.”

The interest in development, Mallozzi said, is a positive especially at a time when real estate values are on the decline and a large number of commercial and residential real estate is for sale. He pointed out that, despite falling home values, New Canaan’s tax collection rate, at roughly 98 percent, is the highest in the state.

“People feel they’re getting value here,” Mallozzi said.

Mallozzi was also asked about Grace Farms and if he had any insight as to whether or not the ongoing fight between the organization and its neighbors would significantly impact the range of activities offered on site.

Mallozzi responded first that he, like other town officials, have been both complimented and criticized for not giving a “top-down” response on the issue.

“Grace Farms is beautiful, been there a couple times, was at a 9/11 service there that was poignant and an unbelievable venue,” Mallozzi began. “Clearly, when that group came before Planning and Zoning, they came as a church with ancillary activity. And that appears to be different than what’s going on now.”

“I think they’re doing the right thing, and the town’s doing the right thing by saying, ‘come on back, lay the cards on the table, let’s see how intense the use is and then we’ll decide,’” Mallozzi continued. “We have to decide this thing, and if we don’t decide it then that animosity will be continued.”

Public-private partnerships, Mallozzi said, were also a point of pride. Mallozzi named the New Canaan Athletic Foundation and the Waveny Park Conservancy as specific examples of residents’ willingness to invest in the town.

The former Outback Teen Center, however, is not one of the areas in which Mallozzi feels the further investment is wise.

“When you see the myriad of issues that are before our town, to consider spending the kind of money that might be needed to do something to that building, to me, as First Selectman, not speaking for the town, is not warranted,” Mallozzi said.

Mallozzi added that residents should stay vigilant against the threat of crime.

“I am extremely, extremely worried about crime,” Mallozzi said. “Let’s be honest, we know that we are targets from out of town folks. And they’re out there.”

“It’s here, it’s right in our backyard. It’s awfully, awfully scary. Put on your alarms, lock your doors.”

Justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1