New Canaan P&Z expected to decide on Merritt Village proposal
Updated 2:41 pm, Tuesday, November 29, 2016
NEW CANAAN — The end of months of deliberation around the proposed redevelopment of the Merritt Village by M2 Partners will soon end, but one issue remains unresolved in the eyes of one town resident: the future of the adjacent Maple Street Cemetery.
“I really think the digging was a desecration and I think it destroyed any evidence because it was done in such a hasty manner,” said Terry Spring, a member of the New Canaan Historic District who contacted the New Canaan News after observing digging on the site on Nov. 21.
A piece of the historic — and neglected — cemetery was recently acquired by M2, raising questions regarding the impact a 100-unit proposed development might have on the burial ground.
M2 contended during public hearings that the acquired land, Parcel P, is not and has never functioned as a burial ground, citing a study conducted by Historical Preservationist Andrew Melillo, of Greenwich-based engineering firm Rocco V. D’Andrea, in which it was confirmed that all prior owners of plots within Parcel P were buried elsewhere.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to decide on the proposal, which was originally proposed in June, at their Tuesday, Nov. 29 meeting.
A non-invasive radar scan was also conducted by Brookfield-based Underground Surveying in March (results were released in October at the close of the Public Hearing), that found no signs of burials down to a depth of eight feet.
The digging that concerned Spring was part of a Nov. 14 study organized by State Archaeologist Brian Jones with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture. In defense of M2, Jones said via email that he is not alarmed by the work being conducted, stating “he’s satisfied that the correct actions are being taken by the developer.”
Jones said of the survey, “no clear evidence of burials was noted, but I nonetheless recommended that the soils be examined by qualified archaeologists to be sure.” According to Jones, his suggested follow-up examination is what Spring observed on Nov. 21.
Theexamination of the soils has turned up no results, to Jones’ knowledge, of any remains. Willingness on the part of M2 to work with Jones is not mandated by any law, the archaeologist added.
“Because no federal, state or local permits that require archaeological investigations are in play here, neither the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) nor the Office of State Archaeology has any real authority over the proposed construction project,” Jones said. “I have stepped in to help sort out what was going on because of some very vocal individuals concerned about the Maple Street Cemetery that lies adjacent to the area in question. My goal was to determine if there were any merits to the expressed concerns and to help provide some technical assistance and advice if the developers were willing to take it.”
Still, Spring is not convinced the land can legally be considered private property. In a Nov. 20 email, Spring cited Connecticut General Statute 19a-315a, which states, in part, “No municipality shall alienate or appropriate any ancient burial place to any use other than that of a burial ground. No portion of any ancient burial place shall be taken for public use without the approval of the General Assembly.”
Town Counsel Peter Gelderman, however, addressed Spring’s claims in a report delivered at the Oct. 4 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, stating because it appears no bodies were buried on Parcel P, it is instead a piece of private property and could be legally acquired and built on by M2. The would-be developers have agreed in public hearings to screen the cemetery during the construction of two buildings, A and B, which sit roughly 8 feet and 15 feet from the cemetery property line.
Request for comment submitted to Arnold Karp, principal of M2 Partners, via email and a phone message had not been returned as of the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 28.