LETTER | P&Z needs to learn how to say No

To the Editor,

Here’s a habit the Planning and Zoning Commission should adopt that would benefit both itself and the town as a whole: P&Z should learn to say, “No.”

That would be a worthwhile solution to the challenges the P&Z routinely faces, and one that might have saved the town many expensive, time-consuming headaches in the not-too-distant past. And it could again, soon: most recently, St. Luke’s School has asked P&Z to agree to a change in the town’s zoning ordinance that would enable the school to build a one-story, 177-car parking garage on its campus.

Hardly anything in the proposal would actually benefit New Canaan residents. Only 20% of St. Luke’s enrollment comes from New Canaan families, for example. The garage would be built in a four-acre residential zone. More parking on St Luke’s campus would mean more cars on campus, so that (regardless of what hired parking consultants might say) the new parking facility would likely further exacerbate the already-heavy traffic backups on North Wilton Road. Further—and this could be the most important result—the ordinance change would allow homeowners to erect large, one-story “parking” structures on their properties if they wanted, even over objections of the Town or the homeowner’s neighbors.

In return, New Canaan residents would get basically . . . nothing. P&Z’s response to St Luke’s proposal should thus be short and to the point: No, you can’t do that. There. New Canaan’s problem is solved. If St Luke’s wants to fix its parking issue, let it come up with a solution that falls within the town’s zoning ordinance.

But P&Z doesn’t say “No” often enough. Instead, too often members of the Commission dither and seem ready to tie themselves into knots to provide some kind of an accommodation. That certainly seems to be the case so far in P&Z’s consideration of the St. Luke’s application. But why? The town’s zoning regulations were written the way they were for a reason: to preserve the character of New Canaan. If an applicant wants relief from those regulations, the burden should be on the applicant to show why the relief wouldn’t materially hurt the town and its residents. In the case of the St. Luke’s application, the town would clearly be hurt. P&Z should do its job. It should say “No.”

Matthew Stichnoth

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