A group calling itself Citizens to Preserve our Village Character has recently emerged in response to the Transportation-

Oriented Development grant application as it relates to development on the lumberyard lot. The CPVC, along with Town Planner Steve Kleppin, will hold an informational meeting about the grant at Town Hall Aug. 31.

At the end of July, the Town Council voted to postpone final approval for a state grant application that would pay for a feasibility study exploring possible senior housing and decked parking in the lumberyard parking lot. The application would be on behalf of the Senior Health Care and Housing Policy Development Team's Phase III initiative, chaired by Judy Bentley. Town Council has until Sept. 15 to give the final go ahead for the grant.

The lumberyard area has always been a hot button issue in town and this is no different. Kleppin was approached by CVPC member Betty Lovastik about holding an informational meeting for seniors, commuters and others, and he agreed. Lovastik hopes the meeting will clear up confusion about the grant and allow those who may have been out of town in July to catch up.

"The grant application is quite long and residents may not have had the opportunity to read through it," Lovastik said. "Coupled with the fact that many New Canaanites were away on vacation, the Wednesday, Aug. 31, meeting is being held to afford seniors, Metro-North commuters, neighbors along Richmond Hill and anyone interested in the future of the lumberyard parking lot to share their concerns and comments with town officials."

"By having the meeting start at 7 p.m., our goal is to have as many people as possible ask questions and voice their concerns. At the same time, town officials will get feedback they need from many New Canaanites as our `public input' portion will begin at 7 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m."

New Canaan resident and CVPC member Rose Osterndorf believes the grant proposal will push New Canaan down a bad road.

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"I want more transparency in government and our elected officials to show fiscal responsibility," she said. "I learned of the Transit-Oriented Development grant proposal at the end of the Town Council July 20 meeting when members were expected to vote on a resolution to authorize Jeb Walker to submit the TOD to build senior housing atop decked parking at the lumberyard lot. I could not believe what I heard. I would like someone to explain to the public what has changed since Avalon. Additionally, a State grant is not "free" money. I don't want taxpayer money used to study the feasibility of housing at the lumberyard lot when the issue was settled by the 1999 referendum supporting the Avalon-Department of Public Works land swap. Lastly, I am concerned with the potential cost and unintended consequences to New Canaan taxpayers and the Town's character if this project ever moves forward."

Kleppin stresses, as he has at previous meetings, that no construction has been proposed yet.

"I think people are reacting as if we are proposing to construct something," he said. "Should we be fortunate enough to receive a grant there will be numerous opportunities between receipt of the grant to the implementation phase for the public to weigh in on the project, but also for it to be terminated. Many of the concerns we've heard so far can't be addressed until we do the study. Traffic, for example, preliminary looks by the LRPC consultants indicate the impacts will be minimal. I think that is insufficient and I know that the public will not accept that so we will study that in depth once we know what the site can physically support."

Overall, Kleppin feels as if the negative reaction towards the grant is premature.

"There are obvious physical needs and layouts the senior housing folks have identified, but the grant proposes that the aesthetic aspects of the project be put in the hands of the general public through a interactive design process so I think it premature to state this will ruin the character of the downtown," he said. "Let's not forget we're talking about a 3-acre asphalt parking lot right in the middle of downtown. There is nothing presently attractive about it. I have also seen comments to the effect `why bring up a divisive issue again' and references to Avalon. Why does it have to be that way? This is just a grant to study feasibility, why not use this as a means to make this a completely public and cooperative process? Maybe the traffic study will yield a very unfavorable report, maybe the financial analysis will not be favorable, who knows. But we won't know the answers to any of those questions unless we ask them, so why not ask them? There is no cost to the town should we receive the grant and zero strings attached. To me it's a no-brainer to conduct the study."

Steve Kleppin, the CVPC and other members of the public will be present to discuss the issue at Town Hall Aug. 31 at 7 p.m.