Chairman’s View: Do the projects that do not increase debt

Affordable housing, senior housing, workforce housing are all needed in New Canaan. Should housing be a concern of the Town Council? Yes, repurposing old buildings as housing begins an intricate calculus getting the Town out of the restoration business. Restore buildings to the tax rolls. Sell Vine Cottage.
To borrow from an old joke, “How fast do you need to run to survive a charging bear?” New Canaan Town Council Chairman John Engel
What can we afford? Our assessor will soon announce the Grand List based on this past year’s sales. Values decreased by at least 7% and will probably be offset by a 7% increase in the mill rate. Nobody wants to see the taxes increase from $17,000 to $18,000 on a million dollar assessment, but it is coming. Given that New Canaan’s per capita level of indebtedness is highest in the state and at a ten year high it seems odd that Town Hall is considering any new projects. Some make sense if they don’t increase debt.
Affordable housing. We have a proposal by our Housing Authority and New Canaan Neighborhoods to grow Canaan Parish by 40 units. The objections are aesthetic, not economic, and overblown. The proposal is self-funded from the housing fund and a mortgage in order to maximize efficient use of the property. We need 100 nicer, larger units. Expect this to pass after more public hearings on design details.
Unimin. On the table is a proposal to spend $10 to $12 million purchasing and repurposing the Unimin building as both police station and school administration offices. Consider savings of $3 million from the BOE lease and $7 million in police renovation costs — the math could work. If the economics are even close this is a very good idea. Sell the old police station to a developer for affordable, senior or workforce housing. It’s a natural extension of the Schoolhouse Apartments. It retains seniors. If a private developer cannot make his numbers work maybe our Housing Authority can. The town wins in two ways: we add a much-needed affordable or senior housing choice on walkable South Avenue and we get an efficient office building as offices. Give it a chance.
Parking. Deck the lumberyard? We wanted this when it was estimated at $8 million. Now, decking is estimated at $12 million. At $48,000 per spot it will take 40 years to pay for it. We can’t afford that. We can’t afford to do nothing. Our Grand List depends on reliable transportation and parking. Sell the development rights to the street front of the property to get estimates back under $8 million. Sell the frontage, hide the deck. Decking the Locust Lot at $4,125,000 for 89 spots ($46,348 each) is not viable. Acquire more spots at the Talmadge Hill and Locust lots for half the price of decking. Do this while working the Lumberyard plan.