Town Council delays vote on grant application; public hearing July 27
Updated 3:26 pm, Thursday, July 21, 2011
The Town Council was expected to vote on allowing First Selectman Jeb Walker to submit a grant application to the state for a feasibility study on the possibility of adding decked parking and independent senior living units at the lumberyard lot and other areas near downtown Wednesday night, but instead delayed the vote till after a public hearing July 27.
"I really wish that we could have had public input on this. It's an important project and normally we really like to get people in a public hearing to say what we think," Town Council Secretary Kit Devereaux said.
The grant application would be on behalf of the Senior Health Care and Housing Policy Development Team's Phase III initiative, chaired by Judy Bentley. The senior housing team decided on pursuing the grant nearly two weeks ago and will need approval from the Town Council before the Aug. 4 deadline. Both Bentley and Town Planner Steve Kleppin told council members that this grant would only pay for a study and does not mean any building proposals are in the works. Kleppin himself explained that public comment on a grant application for a study is a little challenging.
"I understand that and I don't think there is anybody who understands that more than me in these instances," Kleppin, who serves as an ex-officio member on the senior housing team, said in response to Devereaux's statement. "It's almost impossible to get public input on something where no one has any information. I couldn't draw a picture and say this is what we're going to do. We'd have to have a proposal for them to comment on. There is nothing to comment on at this point. If I were just to put something in words saying we're going to add two decks of parking at the lumberyard lot and 80 units of housing I think people would say `Oh my God that sounds really drastic and something out of line' but if they have something to look at, something to measure in terms of traffic impacts, in terms of fiscal impacts and in terms of what it's going to look like I think that's something they could comment on."
Kleppin also explained how the study would cost nothing to town as a result of the grant but others argued state money still affects state taxes, which all New Canaanites pay annually. Council member Tom O'Dea asked about the state funds and how they work and whether or not the grant money would be used elsewhere in the state if New Canaan does not try to apply.
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"If you don't use it someone else will," Kleppin said.
He said that there is a lot interest from a lot of other towns in the state for the grant and the money will most likely be used whether New Canaan gets it or not. In fact, Kleppin believes the state will get more requests than their will be funds since this grant program has been pretty well publicized.
Council member Paul Foley believes where the money comes from is irrelevant and focused instead on whether or not government should be involved in protecting seniors to begin with.
"I don't think we should be in that business. I don't think we should be trying to protect all our seniors. I just don't get why town government should be doing that. People should be able to take care of themselves," Foley said passionately. "If they want to leave town, they should be able to go to Florida. If they want to stay in town, they should be able to stay in town. I'm not against seniors. I'm just against us building senior housing."
"We just finished two commission studies, Phase I and Phase II, to determine that we do need senior housing," Bentley said. "And we've had this need for senior housing for probably 20 years and we've been through several studies and they've been shelved. So I guess it sort of goes back to how much do you value your seniors and do you want to have your seniors leave your community? And we feel that this is an opportunity to find a place a in downtown where our seniors can be relocated and they'll be able to stay in their community."
After continued deliberation, the town council voted to move the approval or disapproval of the grant application till after a public hearing July 27, the same day as the public hearing on the sidewalk study.