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Despite changes, neighbors still oppose field club project

The two-part public hearing on a largely contested building expansion project at New Canaan Field Club was closed Tuesday as neighbors continue to worry about a potential increase in the club's activities.

At the request of the Planning and Zoning Commission at the first part of the hearing July 29, New Canaan Field Club officials recently met with a group of neighbors and decided to incorporate some of the neighbors' requests into the project, including lighting and screening plans.

The club, at 164 Smith Ridge Road, is seeking to enlarge the pool pavilion by increasing the footprint by 127 percent, adding a half floor and a large deck and moving the wading pool. Several neighbors, mostly from the adjacent Glen Drive, said the proposed facility could negatively affect property values in the area and result in additional activities that could increase noise and lighting levels.

David Rucci, an attorney representing the club, said the project was designed "with the neighborhood in mind." With the revised plan, he said the club would shut off the building's exterior lights at 10 p.m., install speed bumps and signage when the driveway is repaved, remove the wall ball court, not rent the facility to out-of-town organizations and not install loud speakers or sound systems on the building.

The club would also have to abide by the fire code's building capacity of 229 people in the common room and 69 on the deck.

Speaking on behalf of about 10 neighbors, Glen Drive resident Kelly Hennigan thanked the club for considering their concerns, but she said the biggest issue was not addressed.

"We do, very much, appreciate the consideration that has been discussed," she said. "However, despite all of this, it does not address our primary objection to the proposed additional top floor, (which would be) 2,300 square feet, and the adjoining 1,000-square-foot deck and resulting new activity, noise, lighting and structure's visibility."

The proposed expansion would bring the building's total area from 3,758 to 8,524 square feet, which is within the limit allowed by the town code. The facility has a basement and a main floor, and the proposal includes an additional level, described as a half floor because of its low height.

The building would house the club's youth enrichment program, which operates outdoor and sometimes under tents, and new locker rooms.

At the meeting, Eric Rains, a landscape architect working for the club, presented a proposal to plant a number of evergreens that could grow as high as 100 feet. Emily Gorecki, who created a lighting plan for the project, said all exterior lighting would be facing the building itself and that the interior lighting would be "no different than seeing your neighbor's dining room light."

Hennigan said the screening plan is not enough to hide the building's lights as "there are different vintage points" on Glen Drive. She also expressed concern about the building's nearly 300-people capacity.

"This is an unsettling number to us," she said, adding that the club could become a "multi-seasonal venue" and would host birthday parties, high school reunions, weddings and other events.

Field club officials have said there is no intention to increase membership, which is about 220, or expand its activities to that level. Club member Mary Flaherty said she "resented" Hennigan's comments regarding potential parties. "This is a family club," Flaherty told the commission.

The club, which sits on about 11 acres, according to Rucci, has plenty of outdoor space but not enough indoor space to accommodate some of its activities. When there's inclement weather, the programs that are run outdoors often have to be canceled, he said. Read Full Article 

Rucci said in July that the structure was built in the 1960s and needs plumbing, electrical, structural and safety improvements. He's also said that the building, which sits about 170 feet from the closest property line, has been designed away from Glen Drive and that neighbors should be pleased that the outdoor events would be moved inside.

The proposed pavilion, which would have an elevator, would be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The main pavilion, located on the north side of the pools, would not be renovated as part of the project.

The commission decided to take more time before it makes a decision. A vote is expected to take place at the commission's next meeting on Sept. 23.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

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