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Sunday, March 18 News

Neighbors oppose New Canaan Field Club expansion

New Canaan Field Club officials are facing strong opposition from the neighborhood as they plan their largest building project in more than 50 years.

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, especially 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.

"Noise escalation will result day and night, easily heard from Glen Drive, due to the elevated multi-purpose room, adjoining external deck area, wading pool relocation and wall ball activity," Glen Drive resident Kelly Hennigan told the Planning and Zoning Commission during a public hearing July 29.

David Rucci, an attorney representing the applicants, said the expansion would not result in any disruption to the neighbors.

"There is no plan right now, for the record, for any expansion of this club, for any additional events," he said. "This purely has to do with trying to find some indoor space."

The club, which sits on about 11 acres, according to Rucci, "has a lot of outdoor space." But what it does not have, he said, is a large 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, Rucci said.

Commissioners tabled the club's proposal until the next regular meeting after noting that they need more information. Member Jean Grzelecki said the commission needs "to be very careful in making a decision."

The building has a total area of 3,758 square feet. The proposed expansion would bring it to 8,524 square feet. According to Town Planner Steve Kleppin, the proposed building coverage is within the limit allowed by the town code.

The facility has a basement and a main floor. The proposal includes an additional level, described as a half floor because of its low height.

Rucci noted that the structure was built in the 1960s and "is not in great shape." He said the pavilion needs plumbing, electrical, structural and safety improvements. The building would house the club's youth enrichment program, which operates outdoor and sometimes under tents, and new locker rooms.

"We are not proposing to convert the existing structure to other uses. We are improving the public health and safety by bringing the existing structure up to current code standards." Philip Hubbard, of PH Architects, told the commission.

Rucci said 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.

"As far as lighting goes (and) outdoor noise," he said, "in a strange way, this is actually something better for the neighborhood to have an indoor space."

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Glen Drive resident Paul Potenza disagreed.

"This is not indoor space," he said. "There's a very large deck being proposed with apparent sliding glass doors, which I assume would shed light into the surrounding area."

Potenza added that the trees would not have leaves in the winter and "the building would loom very largely for us."

Hennigan said the club's activities would "inevitably change" and could draw bigger crowds to the area, creating traffic congestions and overflow parking issues.

Michael Donnelly, the club's president, objected to those concerns, saying the club sometimes hosts events with up to 400 people and never had parking issues.

He also said the youth enrichment program "involves games, arts and crafts, things like that," and would not generate any more noise than it currently does.

"We do that outside during the summertime and do it under the tents when the weather is inclement," Donnelly said. "When there's thunder and lighting, they can't go under the tents, obviously, because it's unsafe. So we have to find a place somewhere to put them."

Donnelly added that there is no intention to increase membership, which has been steady "at 220 active members for many, many years."

In a PowerPoint presentation, Hennigan noted that the facility's design elements are "vastly different than Colonial homes on Glen Drive." She was also concerned with the club's proximity to wetlands and runoff water going into nearby stream.

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 Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to continue the public hearing Monday, Aug. 25.

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

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter