A long debate: Discussion of future of Merritt Apartments rages on
NEW CANAAN — There were no seats available Tuesday night in the Town Hall Meeting Room as the Planning and Zoning Commission finished a special meeting before a public hearing on the contentious proposal for the new Merritt Apartments.
People continued to stream into the room well past the posted start time of 7 p.m. and, even after nearly five hours of public comment, debate between the commission and the development team and expert testimony, much is still to be decided on the future of Merritt Apartments.
The commission is reviewing a special permit request from M2 Partners that would allow the firm headed by Arnold Karp, to become a Pedestrian Oriented Multi-Family Zone (POMZ), which is intended to add to the diversity of housing types in the proximity of the train station and downtown, according to New Canaan Zoning regulations.
Concerns had mainly to do with the size and scale of the proposed project and how it would look from the road and in relation to the houses and buildings surrounding it. Members of the public also expressed concern that if the M2 project were allowed it could set off a domino effect in town, in which building heights would steadily rise and the quaint, small-town feel that many residents value would give way to a more urban landscape.
“We do need more senior housing, but that doesn’t mean we need more density and when you approve this… you create a domino effect,” Mark Noonan said.
Karp’s attorney, Steve Finn, of Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin and Kuriansky of Stamford, however, said that because of the specifications of the POMZ, it would make it virtually impossible for other properties in the suggested overlay zone to meet the criteria.
A representative from St. Aloysius, which sits adjacent to the proposed project, expressed concern on behalf of the school as to the impact construction would have on parking and safety during the school year. Joe Rucci, of Rucci Law Group, presented a list of 12 conditions for the developers to adhere to during construction. Finn said he didn’t see many issues with the list of conditions, but without reviewing the list with his client, couldn’t guarantee full compliance on the part of the developers.
Still, others from the public were excited about the idea of increased senior housing.
Tom Nissley, a realtor who has lived in town for over 10 years, said that he’s heard complaints from seniors at the First Presbyterian Church he attends that there are too few one-story housing options with elevator access.
“I believe there will be a continuing demand for the kind of accommodations that have been proposed by the applicant,” Nissley said.
School crowding, however, was also an oft-mentioned worry, especially the stress that 85 new units would place on already crowded South School
“There’s going to be a whole slew of families from outside of town saying, ‘I can get into New Canaan at a lesser cost,’ Misha Kenin said.
An influx of students, Finn said, citing New Canaan’s decreasing school-age population, is not a real threat.
An additional concern, Planning and Zoning Chair John Goodwin said, is whether or not four stories and 123 units are necessary to the project.
Karp, however, defended the number of units on economic grounds and pointed out that the number of proposed units allows him to achieve 55 percent green space and build a style of apartment rarely seen in Fairfield County that would support New Canaan’s aging population.
“There’s just a whole bunch of deliverables and additional information that needs to be delivered,” Goodwin said. Specifically, Goodwin wanted answers on how the “loom effect” of four stories would impact the aesthetics of downtown, more information on parking, a clearer justification of the number of units proposed and a guarantee that the development would provide work force housing.
He told the developers that, with the help of the rest of the commission and Town Planner Steve Kleppin, a list of additional questions would be compiled for the Karp and his team to respond at the next meeting.
An additional special meeting on the subject has been tentatively scheduled for the week of Sept. 19, to be followed by the regularly scheduled meeting of the commission on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.