YEAR IN REVIEW: New Canaan was engaged in 2016
Published 11:00 am, Friday, December 30, 2016
NEW CANAAN — It’s been a year of frequent and fervent debate.
From Grace Farms, to Merritt Village, to Charter changes, New Canaanites often found themselves at odds with one another, oftentimes in the confines of the Town Hall Meeting Room. Some of these local debates saw peaceable resolutions; others rage on. All saw healthy and respectful public engagement.
Here are some of the year’s top stories:
What is Grace Farms?
Most viewed stories from newcanaannewsonline.com from 2016
Since opening its doors in October 2015, Grace Farms has at times drawn the ire of its neighbors, who have raised concerns over noise, traffic, light pollution and lack of privacy in their residential neighborhoods since the foundation opened its doors and worry that its uses are not consistent with a 2012 special permit in which the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a religious institute with ancillary foundational usage.
In November, Grace Farms first came before the commission to apply for an amended permit and is in the throes of a passionate public hearing featuring concerned neighbors, as well as representatives of Grace Farms, who believe they are providing the town with essential services.
The debate will rage on into 2017.
First Selectman out as finance chairman
Voters were asked questions like whether or not Board of Finance members should have to pay real estate tax in town, or whether voters should be allowed to vote for six, as opposed to four Town Council candidates during local elections. But no suggested change was more contention than the one that suggested the First Selectman no longer serve as the Board of Finance Chair.
It was a position that First Selectman Rob Mallozzi — as well as all active members of the BOF — was outspoken in his desire to keep. Meanwhile, the CRC and members of the Republican Town Committee supported the change on the grounds that it would provide greater separations of power and greater checks and balances.
Ultimately, the electorate voted for the proposed amendment.
“I’m personally disappointed because I believe we had a phenomenal charter in place with ample checks and balances. I feel bad for our Board of Finance members who felt it was important to keep things as they were,” Mallozzi said.
While there were no injuries on a Thursday morning in April in what Metro-North Railroad called a “minor derailment,” the incident inconvenienced riders and drew criticism.
The train that derailed in New Canaan was slowly being moved into the station’s yard when a wheel left the tracks, rail officials said. The mishap caused up to 60-minute delays for commuters, because the disabled train was blocking other rail traffic.
No passengers were on board and crew members were not hurt, Metro-North said.
Merritt plan future uncertain
Since it was first proposed in June, the M2 Partners’ Merritt Village Redevelopment has polarized much of the town. Proponents said it solves a problem of insufficient one-story senior housing in town and would be a boon to a vibrant downtown. Opponents worry that the 110 units as high as four stories allowed by the Planning and Zoning Commission — approved in November after months of public hearings and amendments to the plans — irreparably alter the character and charm of small-town New Canaan, overcrowd the schools and increase traffic.
Throw in a historic graveyard adjacent to the proposed construction site, and many in town remained alarmed. It’s a hotly contested topic in New Canaan — one that won’t be resolved at least until the New Year — and part of a larger debate about redevelopment with which New Canaanites are wrestling.
New Canaan Narcissus
The Glass House featured many amazing artists and a dizzying array of exhibitions and performances in their 2016 season, but the anchor was the site-specific work of seminal Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, “Narcissus Garden.”
The exhibition, installed May 1 and on view through Nov. 30, contained 1,300 silver balls free floating in the pond that sits down a hill below from Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House — an arresting sight especially on a clear day as the sun’s rays shine off the reflective orbs.
Because of Kusama’s age, 87, she specified where on the Glass House property the balls would be situated.
“Usually the way we work with contemporary artists, we either invite them to the site or we go to meet them,” said Irene Shum, curator at the Glass House.. “But she doesn’t travel anymore, so we didn’t meet her. It was actually kind of beautiful, it was like a leap of faith on her part to sort of trust us.”
Land Trust hopes to purchase Fowler Preserve
It became apparent to certain members of Town government that a mechanism with which to purchase unused land for preservation in town did not exist, first when the water company Aquarion announced they’d be selling an 18-acre parcel off Weed Street, and second when the nonprofit New Canaan Land Trust came to the Boards of Selectmen and Finance and the Town Council requesting money to purchase a 6-acre parcel in the Silvermine section of town.
Time is ticking on the latter — a Feb. 28 expiration date on a $1.3 million offer has been set by the owner of the property — and, though the Land Trust is requesting just over $300,000 from the town, the future of the plot remains unclear. With much of New Canaan’s land already built on, and proposed redevelopment stealing much of the spotlight, the Land Trust’s efforts have raised important questions about the value of open space in town.
They’ve also suggested the creation of a Land Acquisition Fund during the upcoming year’s budget cycle. Money from the fund could be used by the town to aid the Land Trust in the purchase of open space going forward.
Town’s biggest Trump supporter paints roof
For many, this year’s was a confusing and troubling presidential race. For Santo Silvestro, it was more clear-cut.
The Cross Street business owner turned heads in 2015 when he painted President-elect Donald Trump’s last name on the roof of his Vegetable Barn and Deli, making himself a target of great criticism — some around town will no longer do business with him — and of great shows of support.
In a country divided after a hostile national election, Silvestro is happy to play a divisive role on a local level.
New Canaan votes for the Democrat
New Canaan is a historically right-leaning town, but in November’s Presidential election, for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson — whose wife, Ladybird, had a unique New Canaan connection — the town voted for a democrat.
The reasons for the shift to the left are varied, but for some in New Canaan, the Republican party put forth too loathsome a candidate.
“I voted for Clinton this time, however, not because I’m part of the Pantsuit Nation. I voted against Donald Trump. I know registered Republicans who did the same, and also some who voted for Gary Johnson. In private conversations we agreed there was no way we could vote for Trump. Trump is a candidate without a party, a man who has been apolitical and opportunistic in his opinions and dealings: no deep political conviction, but always hustling an angle for himself,” said Micaela Porta, a registered independent in town.
Ballers without borders
One such effort took place in New Canaan in July, when the organization held a week long camp in which high school players from Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford were paired with those from New Canaan, Darien, Wilton and other more affluent local communities.
The results, Evans hopes, are unlikely friendships and better understanding between two seemingly disparate groups.
“We mix the teams so it’s an even number of kids from different cities and towns. The counselors make it happen. Every team is co-coached by a white and black counselor. We hire the best counselors with great attitudes, and the players see them interacting and hopefully it sends a message,” Evans said.
On Sept. 25, Chris Lynch, a 2009 New Canaan High School grad, died of a heroin overdose, the first known fatal overdose in town in 2016. Lynch had been living out in Colorado and was in recovery for his addiction when a court appearance brought him back to Connecticut. While back in town, Lynch reconnected with his father, Mark Lynch of Parade Hill Road, who told police he provided his son with the heroin that caused his overdose. Now, after being arrested on a warrant in November, Lynch is pleading not guilty to charges of second-degree manslaughter, possession of narcotics and distribution of hallucinogenic drugs. He will appear in Stamford Superior Court on Jan. 19, 2017.
Grace Farms wins award
During its first full year, Grace Farms caused a lot of stir in both local and international communities. In October, the nature preserve was been awarded the 2014-15 biennial Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize that recognizes the best works of architecture built in the Americas for its River Building, designed by SANAA, an architectural firm based in Tokyo, Japan. Sejima and Nishizawa, founders of SANAA, were also recognized and named the MCHAP chairmen at IIT Architecture Chicago for the upcoming academic year. They received $50,000 to go toward research and publication.
Baby dies at Stamford daycare
The owner of an Stamford daycare was charged in a 2-month-old New Canaan baby’s death in August.
Nydia Carrillo-Maldonado, 34, the owner of Little Bears Beginnings Daycare, was charged with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree risk of injury to a minor in the death of Bella Redondo.
The New Canaan baby had trouble breathing while at the Wardwell Street daycare — twice previously cited for health and safety violations — on July 12 and died at Stamford Hospital several hours later. Her death was ruled a homicide caused by blunt-force trauma to the head.
The case is still pending
Four paws on the street: Meet New Canaan’s K9 cop
Last year, New Canaan got its newest police K-9, Apollo. Joining Officer David Rivera, who’s also new to the force, pup and police hit the streets, making a difference in drug enforcement and suspect apprehension in their first full year together in New Canaan.
Sea Cadets teaches students military, life skills
Each Monday night, 38 students from around Fairfield County and the surrounding areas gather in a building in Stamford, tucked behind the city’s animal control center. But this isn’t the meeting of a secret society. Instead, it’s a meeting of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets, specifically the Dealey Division.
The Dealey Division includes students from around Connecticut and New York, including several from Darien. The students spend their Monday nights throughout the year learning about military traditions, participating in fitness training and receiving training in a range of skills. Though the group may be small and little known in the area, it is impactful. The program isn’t just teaching students about the military, but instilling them with skills they’ll use throughout their lives.
Farren denied delay in payments
8 Ferris Hill
2016 was quite the year for the Hoyt-Burwell-Morse House.
The house at 8 Ferris Hill Road has gone from the path of the wrecking ball to what could soon be a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
An application has been filed by the owner of the historic saltbox at 8 Ferris Hill, Tom Nissley, to the National Register of Historic Places.
The application was first sent just over two weeks ago through the State Historic Preservation Office, and approved by the state on Nov. 30. It will now pass to the office of the National Register for final approval.