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New Canaan residents make their voices heard on new town plan

Published 10:50 am, Friday, March 29, 2013

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  • Glenn Chalder, a consultant from the firm Plantimetrics, will lead the town in its development of a new Plan of Conservation and Development. Chalder led a public hearing Thursday, March 14, at New Canaan High School. Photo: Tyler Woods
    Glenn Chalder, a consultant from the firm Plantimetrics, will lead the town in its development of a new Plan of Conservation and Development. Chalder led a public hearing Thursday, March 14, at New Canaan High School. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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From the quotidian to the quixotic, about 25 New Canaan residents offered their ideas for areas of study for the town's Plan of Conservation and Development update on March 14 at New Canaan High School.

Topics ranged from creating a publicly funded trolley service to cleaning up downtown.

"Downtown needs real attention," John Flinn, a resident and member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said. "It needs to be cleaned, there's the odor of trash cans, the bricks have heaved in different areas; you're lucky if you don't fall over sometimes. Our downtown street should be charming. There are stores going out of business because they don't have any traffic. It's not a nice place to walk around."

The last report, which is available on the town's website, was created in 2003. The state recently mandated that Connecticut towns update their plans. According to Town Planner Steve Kleppin, by 2014 any municipality that does not have an up-to-date plan may no longer be eligible for discretionary state spending.

The Board of Selectmen approved $40,000 on Feb. 26 for help with the document from consulting firm Planimetrics, whose president, Glenn Chalder, led the hearing.

The last plan was completed in 2003 and, according to Kleppin, will be updated with more concrete suggestions. He said the last plan focused on residential issues, and indicated that the suggestions were more philosophical or theoretical.

"This plan we're trying to make more succinct and actionable," he said at the selectmen meeting.

Chalder explained the fundamentals of the plan.

"It's a document which guides the physical, social and economic health of the community," he said. "A plan concerns three key pieces: recognize where we are as a community; identify where we want to go; and explain how we will get there."

Another topic of interest included preserving older and smaller houses. Many residents at the hearing spoke against tearing down smaller houses close to downtown and replacing them with "McMansions."

"Usually, smaller houses are torn down by developers," Mimi Findlay, president of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, said. "My thought is, you can disincentivize that by putting a financial penalty on demolition and with zoning (codes)."

Local builder Arnold Karp disagreed, saying that homes near downtown will not be affected by financial penalties since buyers already pay more for them.

"What drives the downtown real estate market is that people want to live there," he said. "Right now, a downtown property will sell at a 20 to 40 percent premium of houses not in downtown."

Chalder said on the flip side, there are only so many town-imposed regulations people will tolerate on their private property.

"How far can we go in telling people, `You can't do that,' or, `You have to build it this way'?" he asked at the meeting.

Resident Mark Robbins suggested New Canaan create bike lanes.

"I think it's perverse that I bring my bikes into Manhattan and it's dangerous to bike in New Canaan," he said.

The inferior reception for mobile phones was yet again a topic of conversation, as Richard Seltzer, former chairman of the Utilities Commission explained.

"A thorn in the side of many New Canaanites is not being able to communicate because there are not enough cell towers. We really should address that in such a way as to make them available," he said.

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 19, unanimously approved plans for a new 150-foot-tall cell tower to be placed on the grounds of the transfer center.

Chalder said that he would think about the topics brought up at the meeting when he and Town Planner Kleppin update the plan.

"We're going to go back to P&Z and start working on chapters, have a draft this summer, and wrap up in the fall," he said. "Stay tuned, stay posted."

twoods@bcnnew.com; @Woods_NCNews; 203-972-4413