Balancing Progress and Preservation

by Tom Butterworth

This Op-Ed ran in the New Canaan Advertiser and other local media during the week of October 9.  The assignment was to “make my case” for the voters.  

I have two principal goals for my service on the Town Council:  First, to preserve the qualities that have earned New Canaan recognition as a great place to live and educate our children.  Second, to make progress in critical areas like cell service, commuter parking, and the efficient utilization of town buildings. We can balance preservation and progress. We can achieve both.

My wife Libby and I restored the oldest house in New Canaan, adding modern amenities while preserving centuries-old architecture.   I propose a similar approach for New Canaan: modernize to enhance our quality of life, while preserving the Town’s values and historic charm.  Here are some specifics:

First, cell service should be expanded to improve safety, convenience and productivity with minimal aesthetic impact.   Stealth monopoles are less jarring visually than the thousands of utility poles and hanging wires with which we already live.  No credible health risks from cell towers have been verified by any of the world’s major health organizations after reviewing the results of thousands of scientific studies.

We should aggressively pursue the recommendation of the Utilities Commission to build a tower–possibly configured as a flagpole–in Irwin Park.  At the same time, we should use every available legal strategy to prevent the removal of emergency service and cell phone antennae on the Waveny water tower; failing that, we should build a replacement tower nearby. These steps will be resisted by the “anywhere but here” crowd, but it’s the least we can do for the tens of thousands of residents and visitors whose safety and convenience must be our first priority.

Second, we should build an aesthetically pleasing parking structure adjacent to the train station, setting user fees at levels sufficient to cover all of the costs.  Currently, the “lumberyard” lot is an underutilized Town asset, and we are duty-bound to put it to a more productive use.   Of course, a transition plan must be devised to minimize the impact on current permit-holders during construction.

Third, we need to control spending and limit tax increases, without reducing the quality of our schools or other necessary services.   This should involve the changes in the budgeting process that I listed in last week’s Advertiser.

Finally, we should make productive use of all Town-owned buildings.  About 20% of our space isn’t currently used, according to the Building Evaluation and Use Committee.   Significant long-term cost savings can result from divesting buildings that have less historical significance and higher maintenance costs than others, and by relocating some Town employees to buildings we retain.

As a lawyer, a member of a management team within a large international consulting firm, and as a leader of several volunteer organizations, I have been involved in managing costs and balancing priorities for 40 years.  I know it can be done successfully for the Town of New Canaan, while preserving the qualities that make us great.

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