Irwin Park is not a designated park zone, according to Planning and Zoning Chairman Laszlo Papp, despite a 2004 referendum that passed when the town voted to uphold the purchase of the 36.2 acre property for "parkland" use.

"All New Canaan parks and schools are in the residential zone with a special permit," Papp said.

In a vote of 2,310 to 1,432, the town decided to uphold and approve a Town Council decision to purchase the Irwin property for $20 million in 2004. According to explanatory text accompanying the referendum, one-third of the property "may be used by the Town for passive parkland use, including open grass-covered fields, flower and vegetable gardens, trees and paths, picnic tables and other similar family uses." The remaining two-thirds of the property is "designate[d] ... as parkland for active recreation and athletic use ... such as soccer, baseball or football fields."

Nowhere in the referendum or explanatory text does the word "residential" appear.

"There's a sign there that says `Irwin Park,' but we now find out that it's not a park, it's Irwin town-owned land," said Skip Hobbs, petroleum geologist and acting chairman of Keep Waveny a Park (KWAP).

Waveny Park was also in a residential zone until a special Waveny zone was approved for the park in 2007, Papp said. Other special zones include open space zones, flood plain zones, multi-family zones and apartment zones.

According to Papp, the advantage of residential zoning for Irwin Park is that it protects neighbors of the property from traffic, noise and light disturbances that might occur if the land were a designated park zone.

"You can still have ordinances that regulate light and noise to protect the residents [in a parkland zone]," Hobbs said.

He added, "The danger is that if it's not declared parkland, we will have the same situation that we have at Waveny," Hobbs said. "There are people in power who will view it as a building site."

According to Papp, proposals for the construction of some structures in Irwin Park might be awarded with a permit because of its residential zoning. He pointed out that the construction of an office building on the Irwin Property would not be permitted. Papp said he was uncertain as to whether a structure could be built on the property if it were zoned differently.

At a symposium about the future of Waveny Park hosted by the League of Women Voters last Thursday at the New Canaan Library, Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Scott Gress described Irwin Park as a property "in flux." The town acquired the property as a residential zone, he said, but it is in the process of creating an Irwin zone that, like the Waveny zone, will have special guidelines.

"If [Irwin Park] was not in a residential zone, then our authority to protect the residential neighborhood would diminish, according to some members who have considered this in the Planning and Zoning Commission," Papp said at the symposium. "So, I am not sure at this point whether the P&Z Commission would agree to create a special park zone for Irwin. It may be that consideration is such that there is enough protection for the neighborhood anyway by the Park and Rec and there's no need for us to be concerned with this. But at this point we did not concede to create a special zone for Irwin or any other recognized park area."

Hobbs fears that the approval of any possible proposal for a continuing care retirement community in Waveny Park might be bad news for Irwin Park.

"If parkland is used for any purpose other than public parkland, under the law, a like kind of land must replace that," Hobbs said. He added, "Irwin is not a park, so the CCRC people might attempt an exchange."