South Avenue entrance to Waveny, looking much as it does today, circa 1915
We're a growing group of New Canaanites who don't believe that the recent Town Council decision to clear-cut over 17,000 square feet of woods and spend $1.697 million - all for an office building for 5 administrators and their support staff - is congruent with our community's wishes. Unlike our officials, we don't purport to speak for everyone, but as one measure of public opinion, last spring, one group in town easily collected over 1,000 signatures of New Canaan residents who simply requested that any proposed building be kept out of the woods along South Avenue. More recently, in under 3 weeks, we also gathered over 1,000 signatures (with 995 certified New Canaan voters) to bring this issue to a townwide vote.
What do we want to get out of this referendum?
Two things. First, obviously, we'd like to keep office buildings out of the wooded buffer between South Avenue and New Canaan High School. Second, we'd like to encourage our town government to follow a more open and public-minded process going forward. For public woodland development issues as important as this one, it's simply not enough to rely on the barest legal minimum of tiny legal notices to announce vital meetings. Sure, they held meetings, but if no one knows, has the public interest been truly represented? Had real public input been honestly sought and welcomed at the earliest stages of this project, our school administrators would already be happy in a new office and the public woods would not ever have been considered a buildable site.
Do we believe the New Canaan Public Schools need a better office?
Yes! One thing that's obvious is that the New Canaan Public Schools have been making do for too long with an inadequate administrative office. Given the importance we all place on the work the school administrators do, there's no controversy at all about getting these folks out of their current space and into a decent office.
So what's the controversy?
The controversy - which could have been avoided entirely had public input been welcomed and factored into the planning process - is that the building committee has proposed, fait accompli, a site that asks all of New Canaan to compromise the highly-visible wooded buffer along South Avenue and that has been used for over thirty years as a place of recreation and nature. Specifically, putting this office at "Site 1" in the woods requires the clear-cutting over 17,000 square feet of 60- to 80-ft tall trees.
But isn't "Site 1" the only place to put this office?
Of course not. We pay architects to come up with creative solutions to space problems. A solution that calls for the kind of unnecessary destruction of New Canaan's natural resources that "Site 1" requires isn't creative at all, it's just plain lazy. "Can't find a spot? Make one with a bulldozer."
How did this thing get to this point, anyway?
So far, fewer than 50 officials - many of them unelected officials at that - have approved this building and this site. On the other hand, over 1,000 New Canaan residents have signed petitions saying no, this site isn't right for New Canaan, please find another solution.
Who signed last year's petition against "Site 1" (a petition ignored by the building committee), and who signed the new petition to bring this issue to a townwide vote?
As you might expect, the signatures represent an impressive, widespread cross-section of our community. The large majority of signers are New Canaan Republicans, with plenty of Democrats and Independents as well; there are long-time residents and newcomers; school parents and grandparents; people from virtually every street in town. Many of us are concerned with the haphazard development in and around our beautiful town parks, and many of us are also concerned with taking on additional tax burdens – especially in an uncertain economy, especially at a time when New Canaan already has the highest per capita municipal debt of any town in Fairfield County (Source: State of Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development).
So what happens now?
Despite the clear statement of public concern, our representative Town Council voted on January 9, 2002, to approve the $1.679 million it'll take to clear-cut over17,000 square feet of trees and build this 9,200-square-foot office in public woodlands. For the respectful, tax-paying New Canaanites who feel disenfranchised by this vote, a townwide referendum is our recourse.
When and where can we vote?
The referendum voting will take place at New Canaan High School on Friday March 15th, from NOON until 8 PM.
Why the limited polling hours?
The rules of the game let the Town Council decide the hours, and unlike previous referenda, where they've actually encouraged widespread turnout, they're hoping this time to discourage your full participation.
[By comparison, the last time New Canaan had a referendum, the Town Council chose to hold the vote on a Saturday, with polls open from 6 AM to 8 PM, the maximum time allowed by the State of Connecticut.
This time, however, the Town Council has acted in a much different manner. In a special “emergency” session, they've conspired to hold the referendum on a Friday, with polls open only from NOON until 8 PM, the state's legal bare MINIMUM.]
If you're a working New Canaanite or a New York commuter, there's a good chance this decision to cut polling hours will prevent you from casting your vote.
As usual, by their words, Site 1's proponents say they encourage public participation. By their actions, however, they've curtailed your opportunity to vote in person by 43%.
Isn't a referendum a big, messy, noisy thing?
It can be, but keep in mind, everyone, on either side of this issue, wants to do what's best for New Canaan. A referendum does serve to remind us - and our officials - that democracy is not a spectator sport. Our first selectman has said many times that he'd like this to go to referendum, and heeding his call, we agree.
On Friday March 15th, New Canaanites will finally get the chance to
JUST VOTE NO