When it comes time to change, or to manage future changes, town officials often are met with reluctance by some community members. That's what New Canaan Historical Society's Executive Director Janet Lindstrom says. One example, she told the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday, was in the 1940s, when Philip Johnson's Glass House was built.
"Everybody is quite excited about having the Glass House here, although when it first started everybody said, `Oh no, too many people will come to New Canaan,'" Lindstrom said. "Now we're rather happy to have those people come to New Canaan."
Lindstrom was one of six residents to speak at Tuesday's final public hearing on the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development, a state-mandated document that aims to guide growth in New Canaan for the next 10 years.
The proposed plan has sparked some criticism and fear that the town's village character would be harmed if some of the changes are implemented.
Lindstrom said she read the document carefully and found it "outstanding." She said it's natural that any plan that speaks of change draws criticism from some residents.
With only five members in attendance, the commission decided to postpone a vote, which was scheduled for Tuesday, to adopt the POCD.
"After 15 months put into the plan, it seems appropriate for us to be better represented when we actually take a vote," acting Chairman Jean Grzelecki told the more than 20 residents in attendance.
For the most part, the residents who took the podium to comment on the plan expressed support for the document. St. John's Place resident Mark Noonan, however, said he was concerned the language in the POCD would allow taller buildings to be proposed, which he said could increase density and "exacerbate" the parking issue in the downtown area.
"Town parking, town character and particularly the height are a sensitive issue," he said. "Opening the door at all to height changes is really harmful to the town."
The document's proposed plans for downtown include considering increasing the allowed limits on building height, considering the creation of a new zoning district on the west side of the business area, expanding parking, and encouraging mixed uses (residential and business) in certain areas. Any such changes, however, would require commission approval.
"The POCD itself does not change a single regulation in the town of New Canaan. That I think has been somewhat misunderstood," Grzelecki said. "Any application would come before us. Any change in policy would be subject to public hearing."
The plan was compiled by Town Planner Steve Kleppin and Glenn Chalder, president of the Avon-based consulting firm Planimetrics, over the past 15 months.
At Tuesday's public hearing, Chalder defended the plan saying it aims to protect the town's character while managing changes.
"The Plan of Conservation and Development is an advisory document and it's intended to guide the future development of the community," he said. "It is not a set of regulations that mandate what must or must not happen."
Chalder noted that the plan "sets the stage" to deal with issues that are affecting the community today and may affect the community in the future instead of letting "things happen by chance."
One issue he highlighted was New Canaan's aging population. Over the next 10 or 20 years, according to Chalder, the median age of the town's population will be older than it's ever been.
"The average age of New Canaan residents is getting older, and, as a community with a growing old population," he said, "our needs are likely to be different than they've been in the past."
The document's four key priorities are to preserve and enhancing New Canaan's village character, nurture the downtown area, enhance livability and achieve sustainability and resilience.
One of the residents speaking at the hearing was Haik Kavookjian, member of the New Canaan Land Trust's board of directors. Kavookjian, who lives near St. Luke's School, said his neighborhood's main concern is sharing the space with institutions that often seek to expand.
"We feel the Planning & Zoning Commission has done an excellent job maintaining the character of New Canaan," he said. "The challenge arises in those sections where those special-permit institutions coexist with residents."
One example, Kavookjian said, was a recent St. Luke's expansion where the school initially had no plans to abate lighting until a group of neighbors urged the commission to require the institution to do so.
The POCD, which was endorsed by the Town Council in May, suggests a new approach to regulate institutional use in residential areas known as "planned development district," or PDD, which would give the commission "the maximum amount of discretion in reviewing institutional uses," according to the plan.
Resident Terry Spring asked the commission to hold an additional public meeting where an attorney would answer questions from the public. Kleppin said the meeting would not be necessary since the commission already has had legal input on the plan from Town Attorney Ira Bloom.
The commission is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, June 24, when it may vote to adopt the POCD.
The deadline for adoption of the document is July 2015.
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