Historic District Commission Wary of Potential Changes to Town-Owned Properties in Georgetown

This New St. house, built in 1914, is one of several homes in a designated local historic district, directly across the street from a town-owned property being considered for affordable housing. (Photo: Town of Wilton Property Listing report)

Wilton’s Historic District and Historic Property Commission met Tuesday evening, Oct. 5, to discuss potential plans by the Town to increase the supply of affordable housing units by utilizing town-owned, residential property in Georgetown.

At an Aug. 2 meeting, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) began a process to explore the feasibility of such a plan at 872 Danbury Rd. and 31 New St.

Those addresses caught the eye of Allison Sanders, chair of the Historic District and Historic Property Commission, because of their close proximity to one of Wilton’s local historic districts.

The commission works to support “the preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings, structures, places, surroundings, sites, objects, neighborhoods and their environs associated with the history of or indicative of a period or style of architecture of the municipality, of the state, or of the nation,” according to the Town website.

The commission, whose members are appointed by the BOS, “reviews any and all alterations, demolitions, or construction of buildings and other structures within the boundaries of Wilton’s regulated local historic districts and properties”.

Local Historic District #6

The focus of the commission’s discussion at the Oct. 5 meeting was Wilton’s Historic District #6 which includes the Georgetown neighborhood of Church St., West Church St. and Redding Rd. (Route 107). (Note: The following maps of Historic District #6 can be seen in greater clarity on the town website.)

 

Source: Local Historic District Illustrated Maps, www.wiltonct.org

There is an extension of Historic District #6 into the neighborhood south of Redding Rd., including properties on New St., New St. Terrace and New St. Extension, where there are numerous properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The landmark Gilbert and Bennett School is among those properties.

Source: Local Historic District Illustrated Maps, www.wiltonct.org

Define “Within” An Historic District

The town-owned, single-family home at 872 Danbury Rd. — which is also known as 7 New St. — was built in 1914, while the home at 31 New St. was built in 1940. The two properties are adjacent to each other, totaling 3.63 acres, and positioned at the heart of the New St. vicinity, with driveways on that street.

872 Danbury Rd. (Source: Town of Wilton Property Listing Report)
31 New St. (Source: Town of Wilton Property Listing Report)

However, commissioners observed that the two properties are, technically speaking, not in Wilton’s designated local historic district, thus putting them outside the commission’s purview. Nonetheless, Sanders indicated the two properties are of great interest to the commission.

“They are very important, though, because they are directly across the street from most of local Historic District 6’s Georgetown extension. They face a whole row of local historic district homes,” Sanders said, adding, “So their scale and their location make them [important]. It’s like they’re part of the district, only they’re not.”

Adding to the commission’s interest in the properties is the fact that there is a national historic district designation in which the properties do fall.

Sanders noted that the 1914 home owned by the town is, in fact, classified as a “contributing property” in terms of its significance to the national historic district.

However, she also clarified that the 1940 structure is classified as “non-contributing,” though it is still included in the national historic district. As Sanders explained, “It acts [as] a bridge to hold the district together as a whole, but it does not ‘contribute’ as a remarkable structure.”

Since the properties are not included in the local historic district, the commission may be limited in its influence over the town officials’ decisions regarding the properties. But the commissioners were resolved to use their platform to educate the public and raise town officials’ awareness about these properties.

“Any kind of housing that’s under consideration will have an enormous impact on this historic neighborhood,” said Sanders. “I do think the town needs to go into this [knowing] it’s our firm conviction that the design is going to be extremely important. [It needs] to complement and not overwhelm the historic district that it abuts.”

Sanders suggested crafting a statement to town officials “to advise them that these properties are in a national historic district… and that the commission is concerned that design considerations should take that heavily into account.”

Commission clerk Gil Weatherly went further, saying “I think we should make mention of the fact they should give strong consideration to preserving the 1914 house.”

Commissioner Lori Fusco agreed with the notion of sharing the commission’s “thoughts and concerns from an historic perspective” with the BOS.

“It’s what we’re here for,” Fusco said.

Broader Concerns from Area Residents

Several residents in the New St. area have voiced concerns about the proposed development by the Connecticut Humane Society at 863-875 Danbury Rd., just opposite the intersection with New St. Their letters can be seen on the town website, expressing concerns including noise, traffic, and general disruption in the area, as well as the modern architecture of the 14,000-plus-sq.ft. building in contrast to the nearby historic district.

Some Georgetown residents are also concerned about new momentum for possible redevelopment of the former Gilbert and Bennet wire mill adding to potential disruption, additional traffic and changing character in the area.

The next Historic District and Historic Property Commission meeting is Nov. 3.

Editor’s Note: This story was edited to correct Gil Weatherly’s title. He is the commission clerk, not vice chair.