The continued participation of Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dick Ward in hearings regarding the Philip Johnson Glass House is improper, unnecessary and poses a legal risk to the city. He is expected to recuse himself from votes and related discussions in the future.
A neighbor to the Glass House who has been criticized in the past for refusing to recuse himself when the organization requested a change to his zoning permit, Ward at the July 30 P&Z meeting spoke again against a claim made on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Site.
He did so in an unreasonable, unnecessary and inconsistent manner with his own past practice as Commissioner.
Ward’s Winfield Lane House is a five-minute walk or two-minute drive from the Glass House property on Ponus Ridge, according to Google Maps. In the past, he has rebuffed the recommendation to recuse himself from Glass House hearings, saying he did not discuss the organization’s request with other people living in the neighborhood and that he lived beyond the legally required 100 foot notice. zone ‘for land use applicants.
Still, it’s not clear that such a standard would apply if New Canaan were to defend a lawsuit claiming Ward had a conflict of interest. These properties are in the two-acre zone, where the lot size means that formal notification under the zoning by-law is generally limited to those who live next door only.
Additionally, at last month’s meeting, Ward, in pushing back against Glass House’s proposal to allow visitors to park closer to the site than downtown New Canaan, said, “The streets in this neighborhood don’t are not major arteries. These are neighborhood streets with kids on bikes and joggers.
Where exactly in this pedestrian enclave of lower Ponus Ridge do you cross a different neighborhood as you walk the 0.3 miles from Ward’s house to Glass House’s driveway?
Either way, Ward himself doesn’t need to be the one making this point. His neighbors expressed the same concern as they stepped onto the podium at the hearing. In fact, hours before the July hearing, the owners of two properties adjoining the Glass House had filed a letter of objection with P&Z claiming that “the extra traffic will be a burden on our neighborhood,” citing Winfield Lane specifically. like a road where Glass House participants have parked in the past.
Ward’s apparent suspicion, if not his distrust of the Glass House, turned irrational again.
Three years ago, pushing back against the idea that Glass House needed to expand operations to finance itself, Ward repeatedly claimed that a “branch” of the National Trust had raised around $ 1 billion since 2000, and has urged the organization to work with its “parent” to find funding. (They are two completely different entities, and funds from one are not available to the other.)
This time, Ward focused on Glass House’s proposal to change that phrase in its permit, describing the only large annual fundraiser allowed at the site: “The increase from 250 to 400 people is only allowed for the 2016 season and is subject to annual approval. thereafter ”—to this:“ The Glass House may seek approval for up to 500 people, which will be subject to the approval of the Zoning Inspector. “
In other words, the Glass House is looking to increase the number of fundraising participants allowed by 100.
Still, Ward called the wording “a little curious” and hinted that the change would open the door for the Glass House to host not one but two big events.
“It almost gives me the impression that it offers the opportunity to have a 400[-person event] and then, if the zoning inspector agrees, you could have another 500.
Faced with this suggestion, Glass House attorney Diana Neeves of Robinson + Cole was forced to respond, “We weren’t trying to be suspicious here.”
Ward also appears to be treating Glass House’s claim differently from previous P&Z claims.
For example, at one point during the hearing, he pointed to a proposal from Glass House to change the way it would receive approval for certain types of events. than asking for formal approval.
“For some of these larger events that currently require you to submit the event to the zoning officer for approval, you now want to take the approval away and just say you’ll notify the zoning officer,” Ward said. “I don’t understand that, because I think a notification doesn’t make sense if the zoning officer can’t do anything, because there is no approval that the zoning officer can do. That does not make sense.
Yet Ward himself voted two years ago in favor of a modified special permit for another nonprofit that operates in a residential area, Grace Farms, which is licensed to schedule a five-day event with a simple notification to the town planner (see condition 93 here).
By denouncing Glass House’s candidacy instead of recusing himself, Ward broke with the usual practice of P&Z: in recent years, Commissioners Jean Grzelecki (Merritt Village), Dan Radman (Field Club) and Kent Turner (Silver Hill Hospital) have all recused themselves from the requests submitted to the designated body, to name but a few examples.
Ward opened his comments on the Glass House by noting that it was “an undeniable asset to the New Canaan community.” We note that Ward and his fellow P&Z Commissioners are undeniably diligent, considerate and, almost always, conscientious local volunteers, tasked with making very difficult, often conflicting and consequential decisions. Thank you all for your dedication to the city and what is best for it. We ask P&Z to please make a change here to this end.
Here’s a video from the July 30 P&Z meeting, Ward arriving at 2:02:20:
P and Z 7-30-19 from NCTV 79 on Vimeo.