Spoiler alert: I really like New Canaan’s prospects.
Here are five observations taken from the revaluation, the Town budget, the State election, and the first quarter real estate sales. There is a happy ending.
1. The uncertainty coming from Hartford is probably worse than anything Hartford will actually do to us. We accept a certain amount of pain is coming and we adjust. But when house-hunters from New York say, “I heard the New Canaan train is going away” or “What’s going on with your schools?” we know the headlines are worse than the reality will ever be.
2. New Canaan government is working leaner and smarter. Our budget went down .43%, the greatest cut in a decade, while improving services. We built new playgrounds, turf fields and gas lines while putting solar on town roofs. Our roads will be new, and our schools will remain No. 1. Town Hall will sell antique buildings and find a way to co-invest in the world-class library our residents want. Progress is being made on parking, senior and affordable housing and improved cell service. It’s a great time to live right here.
3. The Waveny Conservancy, Land Trust, Library and Athletic Foundation are examples of the high-energy volunteer organizations we have in New Canaan restoring treasures like Waveny Pond with donations, paying it forward.
4. New Canaan real estate is stable. First quarter house sales are up 20 percent with average prices in the $1.3 millions, (same as 2012-13 and same as Darien). New Canaan is drawing buyers out of Westchester and New York City. (If we speed up the trains, wow, the landscape shifts more dramatically in our favor.) Why is the market recovering from the bottom-up? Because 75 million Baby Boomers are trying to sell their houses to 66 million GenXers (like me, late 30s to early 50s), and there are just not enough of us. Be patient. There are 83 million Millennials (23 to 38 years old) who are starting to discover that Texas and San Francisco are expensive. They have to live somewhere. Why not here? We are downright cheap.
5. New Canaan’s downtown is healthy with less than a 5 perent vacancy rate. A few years ago vacancies were lower and rents unaffordable. Rents are attractive again. P&Z and the new Tourism & Economic Development Committee are responding to changes in the market, giving us the flexibility New Canaan needs to compete in a changing retail environment. Developers respond with exciting new projects all over town. The Grand List is growing again. Consider the new developments built or planned for downtown: Pine Street Concessions, Oxygen, The Merritt Village, a new Post Office, a new Merrill Lynch, new mixed-use on Forest, Locust, Cross and Vitti streets. Soon look to the corner of South and Elm and for more development on Pine Street to keep the next station to heaven vibrant.
Change is hard. For a town of steady habits that fears change New Canaan is adapting well, improving in so many ways, poised to compete for the next decade and beyond.
John Engel is chairman of the Town Council. Chairman’s View represents the views of the chairman and not necessarily any other council members.