About 50 residents, including many town officials, assembled in the Wagner Room of New Canaan High School Tuesday evening to learn about and respond to the second draft of the Plan of Conservation and Development.
The plan is meant as reference for future decisions, to help guide the way the town grows and changes for the next decade. The document is compiled by Town Planner Steve Kleppin and Glenn Chalder, president of the Avon-based consulting firm Planimetrics.
The document was broken down into "Preserve and Enhance Community Character," "Nurture Downtown," "Enhance Livability" and "Achieve Sustainability and Resiliency."
Since New Canaan is now almost completely developed, Chalder said, it's important to maintain and preserve open, green space. He cited the town's historic and modern houses as examples of elements that create a culture of New Canaan.
One of Chalder's recommendations for the improvement of the downtown area was to have a "downtown captain."
"Someone who you can call if there's gum on the sidewalk or a brick popped out of place," he said. "Not a department, not a voice mail, but an actual person."
In terms of enhancing livability, Chalder highlighted the benefits of improved cellphone service and tapping into the natural gas pipeline, which runs beneath Waveny Park.
The plan was met with quite a bit of reaction and suggestions by residents, most of whom prefaced their remarks with the community group or association they represented.
"When I was growing up in this area there was a campaign called, `Keep Waveny Wild,'" resident Micki Porta said. "Then, over time, it became, `Keep Waveny a Park.' Now that I'm here, we suggest `Keep Waveny,' so I would like to see something specific in this plan that says we're going to keep our hands off Waveny."
Another resident, Haik Kavookjian of the New Canaan Land Trust, suggested that parking lots be put behind, rather than in front of buildings.
"I go down Elm Street and see CitiBank and Bankwell and feel those are really attractive buildings," he said. "Go further down and you see Walgreens, which I think architecturally is fine but really detracts from the downtown. I think what it is, is where they put the parking. It's just simply shifting things around. One set of buildings contributes to the town, the other doesn't."
One suggestion in the POCD was to start charging for parking on Elm Street. Chalder explained that it is the most in-demand parking in town, but contrary to basic economics, it also has the lowest price because it's free. He suggested installing meters to lower the demand and decrease traffic from people driving around the block, trolling for spaces.
"Having meters might help with the parking," he said. "On the other hand, towns like Rye, N.Y., have a similar situation (free parking downtown) and it works pretty well. There used to be parking meters on Main and Elm, and there was an effort to remove those parking meters. Do we really want to reprise an error? Most members of the Parking Commission would be against charging for parking on Main and Elm."
Chalder said the comments collected at the meeting will be discussed at a Planning and Zoning Commission workshop some time in October, to decide which and how much of the comments to include in the plan. Chalder said ultimate approval of the plan would take place in early 2014.
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