With about six weeks remaining until the town is cleared to demolish the Mead Park Brick Barn, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation of historic structures is making a major push to see building spared from the wrecking ball.
The New Canaan Preservation Alliance has launched a website dedicated to the brick structure at 64 Richmond Hill Road, sometimes referred to as the ‘Richmond Hill Garage.’ In May, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan broke a 6-6 tie on the Town Council to keep $65,000 for razing the Brick Barn in a larger municipal bonding package. In July, the NCPA came forward with an initial proposal to preserve the building that Moynihan described as not “credible.” The town applied (to itself) for a demolition permit and the founder of the NCPA promptly filed a formal letter of objection. That forced the Historical Review Committee to decide whether a 90-day demolition delay was in order, and it did.
Now, as the clock ticks on the delay, the NCPA is coming forward with a plan for the Brick Barn’s preservation, and is expected to make its case before the Town Council at the legislative body’s regular meeting Wednesday. Major open questions facing the NCPA include whether it’s prepared to fund the restoration and ongoing maintenance of the Brick Barn, what would be its future use and just how the organization could undo the municipal process of demolition at this point.
We put those questions to the NCPA—our exchange follows.
New Canaanite: Given that the town already has approved the funds and bonding for the demolition of the Brick Barn, why is the NCPA still pursuing this preservation?
New Canaan Preservation Alliance: The New Canaan Preservation Alliance continues to pursue the preservation of the structure located at 64 Richmond Hill Road, alternately known as the ‘Mead Park Brick Barn’ or the ‘Richmond Hill Garage,’ because the building has been designated as historically and architecturally significant by both the State of Connecticut and the National Park Service. Furthermore, the NCPA has reached out to the Town of New Canaan on at least three separate occasions over the course of this discussion and offered to independently fund the restoration of the building. A grant was obtained in 2013 and presented to the Town but was never acted upon and was allowed to expire. In spite of these offers and actual grant acquisition, the Town has never taken the next step to enter into a serious conversation with the NCPA regarding its offers to restore and activate the building with a low impact use. Many New Canaanites have expressed to the NCPA over the years and specifically during this most recent time, that they are fond of the building, and that it is important to them that the building be restored and activated. The Historic Review Committee granted a 90-day demolition delay and according to its ordinance as a representative of the town is charged with working with property owners to encourage preservation of structures to which a 90-day delay has been granted. In the absence of the HRC acting on this directive, the NCPA is presenting this proposal to the Town.
At the TC vote in May 2018 the agenda item was to approve an allocation for demolition. Following much discussion, noted in the minutes, the TC’s tie vote was broken by the First Selectman in favor of allocating $65,000, plus additional expenses for landscape restoration. This vote was taken in the absence of presentation of a plan for its restoration and occupancy.
- The 2017 Building Evaluation Report indicated a not-for-profit could come forward with a plan for its use but no process was outlined.
- Following the vote, the First Selectman’s closing comments were that he was open to a “credible plan within a reasonable time”
- The NCPA presented a verbal proposal for leasing restoration, and long-term maintenance to the First Selectman on July 23
- On September 12th, the NCPA will present its request for a long term lease to Town Council including its plan to commit its own funds to the restoration, maintenance and occupancy of the building during the lease term thus relieving the Town of any future expense
What does the NCPA understand to be the municipal process needed now in order to undo the planned demolition of the Brick Barn?
The NCPA has asked this question to the First Selectman, to the Chair of Town Council and to other elected and appointed officials and is working with the Town to understand and develop a process.
The question arises, knowing that by way of a tie-breaking vote by the First Selectman, the Town Council voted to include the funding for the demolition of 64 Richmond Hill Road in the budget, but as the governing body for land use in New Canaan, did the Town Council actually vote to demolish the building?
What sort of terms would the NCPA seek in a lease from the town to be able to restore and use the Brick Barn?
The NCPA is prepared to invest its own funds to restore the Mead Park Brick Barn, to maintain it and to occupy it. Therefore, the NCPA requests leasing this town-owned structure with a long term commitment for an agreed upon term. What is customary among not-for-profits entering into such arrangements is a 99 year lease but this term is not a requirement. Since the MPBB is listed on the CT Register of Historic Places, it qualifies, when either owned and occupied by the Town or owned and occupied by a not-for-profit, for access to Federal, State, CT Trust and foundation funding and grants. These grants require the commitment of all parties be long-term.
What sort of funding does the NCPA have for the renovation of the Brick Barn’s exterior as well as for its eventual interior abatement, renovation and future maintenance?
The NCPA, utilizing the vast and deep skill-set of its board members who are engineers, construction company owners, architects, city planners, preservation architects, architectural historians, financiers, and consultants, and selectively seeking outside consultants specializing in remediation and structural engineering, has prepared detailed cost estimates for all phases of the project of restoration.
Funds will be provided by its Board members, friends, supporters, institutions, the Federal, State and other governmental programs and foundations. Corporations will also be donors to this project.
NCPA has established an on-line website and is collecting pledges and donations from the community as well.
What is the future use of the Brick Barn that NCPA envisions? If there is no specific future use identified, what can you tell me generally about the use—for example, how active would it be, would it be commercial/non-commercial, would it be limited to a nonprofit organization’s use?
As has been the practice of the Town to lease historic structures such as the Carriage Barn and many other loved buildings to not-for-profits who provide meaningful support and interest to the community, that would be the goal regarding use of the building.