New Canaan Referendum

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Thursday February 14th, 2002

Here are the three freshly cut tree stumps:

Timberrrrrr!!!
 
Timberrrrrr!!!
 
Timberrrrrr!!!

Happy Valentine's Day, and thank you for coming to newcanaanreferendum.com. As of this morning, signed petitions are still coming in from New Canaanites all over town, so we won't know the final signature count until tomorrow when we hand in our full list. According to Town Clerk Claudia Weber, about 580 signatures were required, and we easily made that number in less than two weeks. Thank you to all of you who have signed the petition. We're looking forward to bringing this important woodland development question to a townwide vote.

As you might expect, the signatures represent an impressive 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.

Clearly, this isn't a school issue, since everyone here strongly supports our excellent schools. It's about the seemingly untrammeled development New Canaanites are seeing in and adjacent to our beautiful town parks. As New Canaanites, we expect higher standards from Town Hall than we do from developers. And despite the building proponents' hard work, we don't see that they've proved the necessity for clear-cutting over 17,000 square feet of trees in the highly-visible wooded buffer between South Avenue and the high school campus.


MISINFORMATION, OR INFORMATION THEY DON'T LIKE?

Since this week's Advertiser also includes a few allegations that this web site is somehow providing misinformation, let's address each one.

"The web site reports that three trees have been cut down. The Town Tree Warden said only one had been removed, and that was because it was rotten."

We'd invite anyone to go to the woods and check it out. When we spoke to the men with the chainsaws last Thursday, on site, they pointed to a total of three trees. And sure enough, there are now three freshly-cut tree stumps in the Site 1 area, all surrounded by fresh sawdust. Included here are pictures of the three fresh stumps, photos taken yesterday, February 13th (these do not include older cut stumps). This is NOT misinformation.


"The web site reports that the proposed 9,200 square foot office building will be a 'huge fake stucco building, nearly the size of a supermarket.'"

We stand by this claim. At 9,200 square feet, for an office for 22 employees, it is huge. And it is largely clad in fake stucco (EIFS), a material with a history of major water damage problems and lawsuits, although recent improvements to the material seek to diminish these flaws. And, as explained on our Just How Big Is The Proposed Office page, the proposed building, due to its spreadout footprint, occupies a building space that, corner to corner to corner to corner, takes up 12,670 square feet, which is, in fact, quite nearly the size of the Shaw's (Grand Union) Market on Pine Street. That's our local scale comparison, not some irrelevant number based on the size of international supermarkets. This is NOT misinformation.


"The site is one-third of an acre, which converts to approximately 14,520 square feet."

We stand by the 16,000 square foot figure, since it was the number provided by the building committee itself in their December 19th, 2001 presentation to the Town Council. A third of an acre may be 14,520 square feet, but this particular site appears to be somewhat larger than a third of an acre. Judging from the Perkins Eastman site plan, the total amount of woodland to be clear-cut may in fact be closer to 20,000 square feet. This is NOT misinformation.


TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY: SITE 1 SUPPORTERS SUPPLY THEIR OWN MISINFORMATION

In any debate, there's more than one side. Perhaps we should now look at "misinformation" being spread by those folks who claim they support Site 1, starting with their biggest and most persistent whopper.

"The referendum advocates endorsed to place the new building with additional parking lot in the wooded park section of Waveny, instead of the site near the high school."

Please. The record is very clear on this. Neither New Canaan Referendum nor Hands Off Waveny -- since we are against development of New Canaan's parks and adjacent areas -- have ever endorsed ANY office building location in Waveny Park. As was made clear in the January 31, 2002 Advertiser, the "Site 10" proposal was offered by an individual town resident who is not involved with our referendum effort. Even after being corrected, some central Site 1 supporters continue to make this erroneous claim.


"Signing their petition will permit a very few (only 600 signatures needed) people to force a costly referendum on a topic that has been thoroughly studied and debated by the governing bodies and citizens of our town."

We live in America. We're following our right, as citizens in a vibrant democracy, to ask for a townwide vote on what is clearly an important issue. As for "a very few" imposing their will, please remember that fewer than 50 public officials have ever okayed the costly and naturally destructive Site 1 plan. If anything, it's the referendum itself that's finally allowing this "topic" to be thoroughly studied and debated as it should be, in a truly public manner.


"When the referendum fails, as it undoubtedly will, it will be more difficult to prevent proposals for other construction or intrusion into the park area than before."

This is what's called an opinion, a speculation on things that may or may not come to pass. We can just as easily say that, given the distinct possibility of a public referendum concerning any development of our town's beautiful parks, public officials will now pay more attention to community input earlier and more attentively than they've allowed in the past.


A referendum "costs a lot of money needlessly and delays the much needed orderly development of the building."

The building committee's official project schedule has built-in the likelihood of a referendum, so if Site 1 prevails, there's no delay. On the other hand, and this is the point, if Site 1 gets voted down, our representative government would have to agree that putting this building in the wooded buffer is not congruent with the community's beliefs.


"It is estimated that over 20 years the net savings to the Town will be $3.8 million."

To quote Ronald Reagan, "there you go again!" The building committee has been citing this "3.8 million" mantra for months, and refuses to acknowledge the somewhat swampy ground this claim stands upon.

First of all, a net present value analysis might yield a somewhat different claim. But most important, it turns out that to get to this $3.8 million number, they're comparing the Site 1 building to a 20-year lease of 9,200 square feet of commercial office space, a wacky alternative that NO ONE has recommended. No one has ever said, go lease 9,200 square feet, and no one has ever said, go do that for the next twenty years. Clearly, better savings could come from many solutions to this issue, not just from one that gratuitously clear-cuts Waveny's trees.


Throughout this building's development, all meetings were open to the public, and the Advertiser has "been diligent in reporting on all of these meetings, including publishing many diagrams and pictures."

The facts tell a different story. With all due respect to the hard work of the various committees who have pursued this office building, tiny legal notices published in the back of a weekly newspaper are the barest minimum of inviting and welcoming public opinion. And the record still shows that notice for the very important March P&Z meeting was NOT published. As for news coverage, according to our superintendent of schools, there was no "significant newspaper coverage" until late January 2001 after the Site 1 plan had been finalized.


"Once the building was announced in February 2001, it faced the entire public hearing process."

The "public hearing process" has a very serious flaw. For every meeting, the building committee is allowed unlimited time (and taxpayer money) to present charts, maps, and statistics, orchestrated for maximum effect, and presented in large part by a paid professional. On the other hand, New Canaan residents if we know at all about these meetings are relegated to 2-minute statements directed at the committee, but never actually answered by the committee.

But by February 2001, it seems that the "public hearing process" was in fact already over. As far as we can tell from the officially distributed timeline, the relocation study group (identified by our first selectman as "a circle of like-minded friends") spent 6 months choosing Site 1, and then spent nearly 2 years trying to rationalize it all PRIOR to announcing it to the public last February. And by then, the cement was set. The site had been chosen, plans had been drawn for it, a manhole had been dug, and the building committee said they would start construction in a few months. Public input, outside of Town Hall: zero.


"The voters' decision should be based on fact, not on which side has the 'slickest marketing campaign' or the ability to deride those who offer differing opinions."

We completely agree with this editorial comment from the Advertiser. But has the building committee been welcoming of public concern about Site 1? No, we've been treated as the "opposition," instead of as the fellow New Canaan neighbors and taxpayers that we are. Regardless of what side you take on this issue, we're not your enemies, we're your friends. We go to the same churches, our kids go to the same schools, we shop in the same stores. Even as development continues to erode what many of us hold dear, we love our town, its resources and its natural beauty. That's exactly why hundreds of us are now prepared to bring this important development issue to a townwide referendum.