Saying it’s too expensive to maintain and insure a vacant, antique house in northeastern New Canaan, the property’s owners on Monday filed an application to demolish it.
The first taxing district of Norwalk has no immediate plans for the ca. 1750-built house and 4-acre property it owns at 1124 Valley Road, according to James Fulton, an attorney who serves as trustee for the district.
“If someone offers us enough money, they can buy the whole property with the house on it, too,” Fulton told NewCanaanite.com. “But for the amount of money that some people think the property is worth and are willing to pay, it is actually worth more to the district to keep it for its future use. It is very, very near to the reservoir and that gives it a very strategic location and a very useful location to the district.”
The “Grupe-Nichols-Brown House” hit the market at $2.25 million two years ago. That’s how much the first taxing district of Norwalk paid for the property in 2006. Since then, historic preservationist and open space advocates have kept a close eye on it. Located beside the New Canaan Land Trust’s 10.3-acre Browne Wildlife Sanctuary, the 4-acre property has been said to hold the key to the Grupes Reservoir “viewshed.”
Fulton said that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan has contacted the district and that he plans to meet to discuss the property.
Additionally, Fulton said, the district has been “trying to offer every conceivable opportunity to save the house, and we have been in discussions with a number of people.”
“We have offered the house, told the Land Trust that they may remove the house for free. ‘You may have the house as a gift or any piece or pieces of it. And you may take it and put it in your property or any other property you want to put it on, if you believe it is worthy of preservation.’ ”
Chris Schipper, a member of the Land Trust’s Board of Directors who has been involved in talks about the property, said this is “an opportunity for several organizations to get together and preserve a piece of New Canaan history and a beautiful piece of land.”
“It really takes a coalition on one side of preservationists and historical aficionados as well as ‘Land Trusters’ and maybe together we can convince the district not to demolish the house and to preserve the land,” Schipper said. “And maybe we can raise the money to preserve the house and land. We obviously are open as ever to any suggestions, but the long-term suggestion is to get the house and put a preservation easement on it and put a conservation easement on the land.”
Fulton said that different historians likely would have varying points of view on the historical value of the home once inside.
“My suspicions are that a goodly number of them will look at the linoleum jungle that the house has become and say, ‘Oh my goodness, this house has been renovated and added onto so many times, it has really lost all historical value,” Fulton said. “And there may be some who think otherwise.”
According to research completed by Mimi Findlay, chairman emerita of the nonprofit New Canaan Preservation Alliance, the Grupe-Nichols-Brown House is an important antique structure. Situated near the road, with a well in front, it now includes 3,200 square feet of living space and four bedrooms, though it isn’t clear whether the saltbox rear is original to it, according to Findlay.
Rose Scott Long, co-president of the Alliance, said the property is a “Landmark” of New Canaan.
“The siting of this classic antique on a rise at the intersection of Valley and Benedict Hill has served as a visual landmark for over 200 years. The value of a sense of place that properties such as this contribute to the overall unique experience that is New Canaan should be acknowledged. These experiences are why most New Canaanites chose to live here, chose to buy a home here. Without them, we lose the experience that is New Canaan.”
Under Chapter 135 of the New Canaan Town Code, a written objection to a planned demolition may be filed with the town building official within 15 days of a publication of the demo notice. The matter then moves to the Historical Review Committee, and if that body finds that the “age, style, condition or character” of the home has “historical, architectural or cultural significance,” then it may issue a 90-day demolition delay.