Fear of burials resolved, Merritt Village gets approved
NEW CANAAN — A year of digging and debate over possible human remains are over and Tuesday night zoning gave approval for 110 units to be built at Merritt Village on the outskirts of downtown.
“I think this is a good outcome. I think there were some difficult decisions. I think the State Archeologist’s point on this was that it wasn’t a perfect outcome, but it’s certainly a satisfactory outcome vis-a-vis the burials and the cemetery,” said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman John Goodwin, referencing the involvement of State Archaeologist Brian Jones on the topic of the Maple Street Cemetery that sits adjacent to the M2 Partners project.
The area — known through most of the project as Parcel P, but broken down into smaller sub-parcels for clarity later — caused significant debate after an excavation of the site by Westport-based Historical Perspectives Inc. turned up three burials in what is known as the David Law Plot and scattered small remains suggesting poorly exhumed burials. Questions arose as to whether the remains constituted a burial ground, and whether construction should be allowed so nearby.
The commission, however, voted unanimously Tuesday — based in part on the opinion of the Jones — that because “the intent to use the parcels for burial has long been abandoned,” and “the parcels do not have sufficient historical or cultural significance as evidence by the removal of burials... and changes in use in the parcels for other purposes for a long period of time,” according to Town Planner Steve Palmer, the land could be built on.
Several conditions remain for construction, including permanent fencing to delineate and preserve the David Law Parcel from Merritt Village, the creation of a 10 foot no-impact strip to protect the cemetery during building, continued monitoring of the grounds during the excavation of buildings A and B — closest to the cemetery — and relocation of the disinterred remains found in adjacent parcels.
Chairman John Goodwin also noted his suggestion that M2 Partners and the New Canaan Historical Society work together to protect the existing Maple Street Cemetery.
“There’s been a little bit of rancor between the applicant and certain people within the community and so, while this doesn’t have a lot of legal strength behind it, I thought this would be important to hopefully what we encourage the applicant to do,” Goodwin said.
Despite the considerable uproar about the project’s effects on the burial ground, the commission noted that the attention brought to Maple Street Cemetery during the process and the promise made by M2 Partners to maintain the parts of the parcel where burials are known, it is a positive outcome in terms of preservation.
“I think it should be recognized by everyone that the cemetery is now in a much better place than it ever was in the past 100 years,” Commissioner Dick Ward said.