Thursday, July 26, 2018

Chairman’s View: Expect a High-Density Development on Pine Street, column for July 12, 2018

Chairman’s View: Expect a high-density development on Pine Street

By John Engel
Town Council Chairman
The Beval Saddlery building at 50 Pine Street and two adjacent brick buildings may have been sold to a developer.
My purpose is not to report on a rumor. But, if it has not sold then it will likely sell in the not-too-distant future. Don’t be surprised. It is logical to expect the eventual buyers to propose another high-density development in this location. 
There will be hand-wringing about the changing character of our town. What is the best use for Pine Street? Some say New Canaan’s “Magic Circle” loses its magic every time it is diluted by the addition of storefronts on Pine, Grove, Cross and Vitti streets. Others say we must evolve, and new, dense development is consistent with the POCD (Plan of Conservation and Development) and adds to the tax base in a way that makes New Canaan a more complete shopping and dining destination.
Both are correct. I would suggest that we talk about what healthy change looks like in our downtown instead of simply opposing whatever represents change. It is good to remember that we are unlikely to solve any perceived current issues (not enough variety in housing stock, not enough senior-friendly housing, too many retail vacancies, etc.) unless we are willing to consider changing what we currently permit.
Two residents, each in town for at least three generations, stopped me last week with diametrically opposed opinions on whether the Merritt Village project is good for New Canaan. 110 condominiums in 4 buildings on 3.5 acres. One of them cited its consistency with our POCD’s intention to encourage senior-friendly housing within walking distance of train and town.  The other said it was too dense, too ugly, and not in keeping with the character of our town.
The three Pine Street lots represent nearly two acres in the BUS-A zone. Our assessor appraises them for nearly $12 million, currently $140,576 in property taxes. Therefore, there is a good chance that we will see a proposal for development that spans all three lots, is built to the height limit of 40 feet, possibly with parking underneath to maximize building size and make use of the slope. While this should clearly raise the taxable value of the property, do we want more dense housing, possibly senior or workforce housing, maybe mixed-use with retail on the bottom at that location? 
One difference: we won’t see the 8-30g threat as a retaliatory tactic by developers who don’t get their way with Planning and Zoning. New Canaan has been working on a multi-phase plan that already exempts us from the 8-30g threat for the next three years and will hopefully lead to up to eight additional years.
50, 58 and 70 Pine have style. They do not loom. They are set back from the road with green space in front. The parking is hidden. The old bricks are warm with character. 
Almost anything new is better than a vacant building, but, please, let’s actively try to encourage the most benefit for the Town as a whole from these unique buildings.
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