Could a home built in the 1960s be considered historic?

On Tuesday, April 5, the Historic District and Property Commission (HDPC) started discussing a potentially significant expansion of historic protections for private homes in Wilton — homes that were built much more recently than the revolutionary-era homes typically thought of as ‘historic’.

Also on the Commission’s brief agenda was the return of a landmark Wilton church with a property application for something mechanical but not at all mundane. It was a second attempt at getting the town’s approval and the neighbors’ blessing.

Wilton Congregational Church

First on the docket was an application by the Wilton Congregational Church (70 Ridgefield Rd.) to install a new emergency generator in a used mechanical space inside the historic building. This is the second application by the church for the addition of this equipment; a previous application that featured an external generator was withdrawn following complaints from neighbors.

Giff Broderick, chair of the church’s building and grounds commission, and Susan Odell of Paul Bailey Architect presented the new plan.

Odell explained that the only exterior and visible elements of the generator would be an intake louver and two means of exhaust, one of which will be encased inside a brick chimney. She presented two screening options, one that would more closely mimic the white clapboard of the church’s exterior, and one that would be a lattice design.

Broderick added that the generator would only run during power outages, apart from a seven-minute period once per week in which it would start up briefly for maintenance. Given its new interior location, the sound for neighbors is expected to be minimal. He also explained that the generator will run on the same oil tank that supplies the existing boiler, so no additional fuel storage will be added on the site.

As with the previous proposal, the church plans to offer its space as a community facility in the event of an emergency, offering heating, cooling, charging, and meal service.

Vice Chair Lisa Pojano praised the applicant. “This was a great presentation and a big improvement on the last proposal — thank you for coming back and continuing to work with us and the community on this,” she said. “Kudos to the church.”

Chair Allison Sanders called for a vote and the Commission unanimously approved the church’s application for a certificate of appropriateness for the generator, as well as five exterior security cameras.

Historic Resources Inventory Survey

Sanders introduced the second agenda item as a suggestion made by Commissioner Gil Weatherly and turned to him to explain the topic.

“I was thinking about where we are in the timeline of the historic survey and whether there may be historically significant buildings and homes in Wilton built between 1947 and the early 1970s,” he began. “I don’t particularly feel I’m qualified to make any assessment of these homes but there seem to be some scholars who value some of the typical suburban homes that builders put up in this time period, and certainly there are a whole bunch in our town.”

He noted that certain midcentury modern, ranch, cape, farmhouse, and French country style homes might be eligible, citing 89 Middlebrook Farm Rd. in particular as a potentially significant home.

Sanders suggested as a first step that Weatherly contact the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and inquire about whether grants would be available for surveying that time period of architecture.

Reached after the meeting by GOOD Morning Wilton, Sanders further explained by email that if the Commission received a Survey and Planning Grant from SHPO, it would then need to produce an RFP for the project and circulate it to a list of architectural historians qualified to judge the historic significance of eligible structures.

If a survey of this kind could be funded and executed, a large swath of Wilton residential properties could potentially be considered for nomination for historic status. Homes on the historic register can be held to contextual design guidelines and might require town review for changes that impact the historic character of the structure. Being added to the historic register also gives property owners the right to apply for certain tax credits to support restoration efforts. In general, only the exterior, not interior elements, are eligible for historic status and subject to resulting review.

More information on past historic surveys conducted in Wilton is available on the Wilton Historical Society’s website.

Looking Ahead

The next meeting of the Historic District and Property Commission is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3.