The Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission (HDPC) gathered for a brief meeting on Tuesday, June 7, the last regular meeting of the group before the fall. Throughout the summer, the Commission will call a special meeting to address any urgent matters.
475 Danbury Rd.
Chair Allison Sanders opened the agenda by briefing her fellow commissioners about the unpermitted removal of an antique barn from 475 Danbury Rd. Sanders said after the barn’s sudden absence was brought to her attention, she alerted the Building Department and urged officials there to levy a fine on the owner.
UPDATE/CORRECTION, 10:30 a.m. — The buildings and property at 475 Danbury Rd. are owned by Search Services LLC, according to land records. Dermage Spa is the current business tenant at the location and not the property owner. David Tortorelli, the owner of Dermage Spa, said that neither he nor the business was involved in the decision about removing the structure.
According to Sanders, the Building Department has issued a letter to the property owner explaining that a demolition permit was required before the work began. The process now requires the owner to apply retroactively for a demolition permit.
Although state laws technically allow a penalty of one year’s imprisonment for the removal of a historic structure without a demolition permit, Sanders said she thought Building Department officials would more likely — and more “appropriately” — just issue a fine.
“I’ve never heard of the Building Department imposing imprisonment,” Sanders said. “But hopefully they will pursue the maximum fine allowable.” The maximum monetary penalty for a violation of this kind is $500.
Historic Resources Inventory Survey
Next, the Commission discussed updates and next steps on a topic first presented at the previous meeting in April. Commissioner Gil Weatherly had noted that certain midcentury modern, ranch, cape, farmhouse, and French country style homes in town might be eligible for the historic register, citing 89 Middlebrook Farm Rd. in particular as a potentially significant home.
Weatherly had been tasked with contacting the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to inquire about whether grants would be available for surveying this time period of architecture. He indeed heard back from Mary Dunne, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer and Certified Local Government & Grants Coordinator at SHPO, who called the idea “interesting.”
She invited the town to apply for a non-matching grant of up to $30,000 to survey these resources. Weatherly posed for discussion whether the Commission should pursue this, or perhaps, whether the Wilton Historical Society might be better suited.
Sanders, who for the last five years served as co-director of the Wilton Historical Society, suggested that the organization’s current staffing transition might make it difficult to pursue a project of such magnitude at this time. Last week, the Historical Society announced that Sanders and fellow co-director Kim Mellin would be concluding their tenure, effective Friday, June 3. The pair will be celebrated for their years of service at the Wilton Historical Society’s annual meeting on Tuesday, June 21.
As for whether the Commission itself should pursue a matching grant for a 1940-1970 homes survey, Sanders suggested waiting until the Commission’s application for certified local government (CLG) status is, hopefully, approved. This program, run by SHPO, fosters a local, state and federal partnership that promotes historic preservation at the grassroots level. CLGs are able to apply for a wider range of grants than non-certified entities. HDPC applied for certification earlier this year and expects to be approved.
Weatherly agreed that the project did not need to be expedited, and added that perhaps given a few months’ time, the Historic Society might be staffed up and able to take the lead.
Before moving on, Sanders noted that the Commission received a letter from a resident expressing support for the 1940–1970 survey. The letter will be posted by the Commission shortly.
Tracking Infrastructure Repair Projects
On a final topic, Sanders briefed the Commission on updates to major town projects with historic implications. Sharing the content of an attachment on infrastructure priorities provided during Monday’s June 6 meeting of the Board of Selectmen (BOS).
“We’re concerned that the continuing historic look of these properties be handled in an appropriate way and that they continue to have their historic presence on the landscape,” Sanders explained.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Sanders noted that funding has been allocated for the replacement of the missing column as part of the broader project to replace the columns and front steps at Wilton Town Hall. An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that the cost to replace the one missing column was $250,000. According to First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, the cost to replace the one missing column is closer to $20,000, while the overall project involving all columns and steps has been budgeted at $250,000.
Sanders also explained that the proposed renovation of the Yellow House at Ambler Farm has not yet been greenlit. The BOS is expecting a presentation by the Friends of Ambler Farm (the non-profit organization that manages the farm for the town) during the upcoming June 20 meeting and will discuss the possibility of bonding the project. The current estimated cost of repairs to the Yellow House is $475,000.
“It’s progress even though it feels slow,” said Commissioner Lori Fusco, before asking whether CLG designation might also open up matching grants to help support the cost of the Yellow House project.
“We’ll have to look into it,” Sanders said. “But in my experience, there aren’t that many grants to support repair or construction costs, and they’re hard to get.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6.