Saturday, December 30, 2017

Chairman's View: With Compliments and Thanks

By John Engel
Town Council Chairman
Christmas is behind us. Before the New Year’s excitement I’ll take this opportunity to thank some volunteers.
To Bill Walbert and John Sheffield, departing chairmen of the Town Council and Board of Finance. Neither asked for the job of chairman. John is a fiscal conservative: voted against an appropriation for land acquisition, an increase in the treasurer’s salary, and in the tax collection rate. It’s hard to say no, but you were tough. We will consider ourselves privileged to have a similarly involved leader in our next Board of Finance chair. Bill Walbert managed to lead the Town Council without ever saying a cross word. He told me the best part of the chairman’s job was thanking the incredible volunteers who serve this town everyday. Bill inspired this column.
The New Canaan Library
To Bob Butman and his Library board, the greatest example we have of a public-private partnership: The town pays only a fraction of your budget, far less than surrounding towns, and we recognize how deficient your current space is. We’ll ask you to build us a spectacular new library and tell us how you’ll pay for most of it privately (please!). All of New Canaan needs you to succeed. What you propose will last for generations.
The Waveny Park Conservancy
Thank you Bob Seelert and the Conservancy Board for exceeding all expectations in the 50th year of the Lapham gift, polishing the jewel of New Canaan. Trails are done, the cornfield is being renovated, gardens are planned, and restoration of the pond is a certainty after an outstanding gala earlier this month. Bravo.
The New Canaan Land Trust
To Art Berry and the Land Trust Board: Thank you for adding not just six acres in Fowler purchase but a vital public park in a neighborhood that had none. Thank you for linking the Nature Center to Irwin Park, pushing for a Land Acquisition Fund, and making us more appreciative of open space.
The Historical Society

To Mark Markiewicz and the other Historical Society board members working overtime to move beyond your revolutionary roots: Besides the Ice Cream Social, “House of Cars”, “Waveny, Then and Now”, “Art America,” and “New Canaan Modern Architects” in the Carriage Barn, you’re planning an art show on Orientalism, a belly-dancing performance, the Mad for Moderns gala, and the bi-annual Modern house Day Tour (Oct. 20, 2018). There’s a reason to go to 13 Oenoke besides the Advertiser Coffee.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"New Canaan Made Plain" (my column for the New Canaan Advertiser)

This column is making good on a promise of transparency. As your bow-tie wearing Town Council Chairman, rarely accused of being shy, it’s my charge to let people know what is going on in New Canaan.

Bankwell is quitting the residential mortgage business. Based on Bankwell’s tremendous history and visibility here in New Canaan (sponsoring just about every non-profit event in town) this is a shock. It reflects how competitive the residential mortgage business has become. It’s a funny time to leave the business, just as rates are about to tick up and the business could become more profitable.

The Town Council confirmed Board of Finance nominees: Colleen Baldwin returns; Todd Lavieri is new. When the BOF issued their guidance last month setting a cap of 2% on all budgets and the First Selectman reaffirmed that guidance we set the expectation for a tough budget season.

Town Council announced subcommittees last night. We had huge interest in the Infrastructure and Utilities Subcommittee where we will review potential cell tower sites on town properties (note new cell tower P&Z regulations are in draft for private properties), the roll out of gas service and the newly released Buildings Committee recommendations. Penny Young and Cristina Ross chair our subcommittee with Sven Englund, Joe Palladino, Tom Butterworth and Liz Donovan. New Canaan signaled low appetite for school and park sites. Private cell sites may now emerge.

The Town Council is beginning a new tradition: start each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance led by local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. Good for the scouts, doubly good for the adults. We will stand.

People keep asking me what is happening in our real estate market and how will it affect our budget. As of December 1 the number of single-family home sales is up 36%. The median sale price is exactly $1.5 million. Sales below $1.5mm are up 41% while sales above $1.5mm are up 32%. The bottom half took off early this year, sales under $1mm were up 147% in October. Now, we see strength at the higher end as confidence moves up-market. Four sales this year over $5 million with another 2 sales pending is a good sign for the New Canaan market.

All 4 performances of the NEAD Nutcracker sold out last (snowy) weekend, 3000 tickets, the first ever with a live orchestra. Bravo. There’s one (charity) show this Saturday.