New Canaan community group pushes for referendum
Published 6:50 pm, Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As with any issue, there are those who support it and those who do not. In the case of the New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending group, the short and easy answer regarding its stance on Main Street sidewalks is that members are simply against it.
However, it is not that simple according to Karen Mackle, chairman of the CRS.
"I don't know of anyone in our group who is against the concept of sidewalks," Mackle said.
The issue, Mackle said, stems from the original $4 million bond approved by the Town Council for paving town roads. As of now it is believed that any sidewalk construction would be financed by bonded money and the CRS feels as though the bond money should only be relegated to repaving and maintaining roads as well maintaining existing sidewalks.
It is against this $4 million bond that the CRS has filed a notice of intent for a referendum. The notice was filed on March 10 in the Town Clerk's office. The CRS must collect 627 signatures, 5 percent of the registered voting population in New Canaan, by no later than April 2 according to Town Clerk Claudia Weber. After April 2, if the CRS has the requisite amount of signatures, Town Council must decide on a day for the referendum, which can take place within 30 days of the approval. Weber explained a referendum, if approved, would work similar to a normal election where residents go to a polling place.
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Regarding the number of signatures for the referendum, Mackle did not give an exact number but said they "are well on their way" to obtain more than the necessary signatures.
"Our target is over 1,000," she said.
"I hope it doesn't get to that point," Mackle said. "The Town Council has an opportunity to do what is right. They can chose to spend the bond exclusively on road repair and repaving."
If a referendum were to overturn the $4 million bond, it would effectively halt the paving project until the Board of Finance develops a new bond that specifies spending that money only on paving and maintenance, as opposed to sidewalks and other infrastructure initiatives.
"We just really want Town Council to do the right thing," Mackle said. "We want our roads repaved."
The CRS cites the other main concern as safe passage for the fire department.
"The fire department came out saying they were against the narrowing of any roads," Mackle said. "We couldn't believe that they were ignoring the fire department. They don't want any changes to the road especially because it does narrow the road in certain parts."
As of right now, it is unclear how much the roads would be narrowed, if at all, and at exactly what points until Public Works returns with the results of the study, which would also give a better idea on costs.
"At present, the narrowest part of the road is 24 feet. Our plan was to not go any narrower than 24 feet. That plan might allow us to expand that and go actually wider than 24 or might dictate a need to go wider than 24 around say around the Woodland curve area," Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann said at the Town Council meeting on March 16. "We won't know that until we do the study and then make a determination from there."
While that means the road should not be narrower than it's narrowest point of 24 feet, it still leaves room for some of the wider areas to be shrunk to no more than 24 feet. It is the point of the wider areas that Mackle, the CRS and the fire department have issues with.
"So will the proposed road be any narrower at its minimum than it is now? Perhaps not, although I also question that claim," Mackle said. "But will the road be any narrower at its maximum, and will the average width of the road be narrower? Absolutely."
"We are ambivalent towards sidewalks, all we care about is the safe passage of our fire apparatus," Horner said. "Please keep that in mind."
He stated the department is mainly concerned with narrowing roads that would potentially "have a negative impact on safe passage" of fire trucks.
"This is for the safe travel of fire department emergency vehicles and the safety of other drivers," Horner said based on the Fire Commission's own study on the roads and how it would affect their job in emergency situations
Still, while the safety and narrowing issue is still in flux, Mackle and the CRS are adamant about the cost side of this project.
"We are all pro sidewalks. I have young kids and we walk into town all the time. We do not use Main Street, but sidewalks, I think, are part of long-range planning. We need to know the costs and all the ramifications," she added. "We are in dire need of responsible spending."