Q&A: New Canaan Preservation Group Seeks Long-Term Lease for ‘Mead Park Brick Barn’

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.

A rendering of Mead Park Brick Barn after a proposed exterior renovation from the New Canaan Preservation Alliance. By Mark Markiewicz

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.

9 thoughts on “Q&A: New Canaan Preservation Group Seeks Long-Term Lease for ‘Mead Park Brick Barn’

  1. Can we please demolish this building and end this debate. Am not only tired of reading about it, but also tired of looking at it instead of the pond whose view it obscures.

  2. Agreed. Many resident, including neighbors, have no “fondness” for this building and will be relieved to see it finally go.

    • I am sympathetic to your opinion. The Town has been a negligent steward in your neighborhood of this historic building listed on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places. You can read about its history on the website: savemeadpartbrickbarn.org. Please attend the meeting of Town Council Wednesday to learn of the NCPA’s plan to fully underwrite the costs of restoration and maintenance of the Barn and to invest its money and energies immediately in changing this neighborhood distraction into an attraction.

  3. Keep in mind that when the Waveny Carriage Barn was saved:
    1. it was saved by one specific group for one specific purpose — home for New Canaan Society for the Arts;
    2. this group had the people and money in place BEFORE they got approval to go ahead with the project.
    3. the group put hundreds of sweat equity hours into converting the inside of the Barn for classes, art exhibits, chamber music concerts, etc.
    4. the group has always been responsible for any repairs or improvements INSIDE the barn.
    5. however, the Town (also known as we taxpayers) have always had to bear the burden for any and all costs related to the OUTSIDE of the barn … such as the new roof a few years ago.
    6. we hear a lot of talk the talk from NCPA about having money available … but how much do they actually have committed? … and how is the place going to be used? You might recall that Skip Hobbs, who is on the board of NCPA, also helped lead the charge to try and get the Old Faithful fire engines in the brick building when Dick Bond was first selectman and was pushing for it also.

    • The NCPA invites you to attend the Town Council meeting on Wednesday evening where it will present a plan for the Barn’s restoration and maintenance under a long term lease of the structure from the Town. We are familiar with the lease terms of the Town and Carriage Barn. Our plan differs—it will relieve the town of all costs: immediate (demolition of $65,000–only an estimate), and future (all maintenance) for the lease term. I look forward to meeting you Wednesday evening.

  4. We have failed for 20 years to identify a good use of this garage that is agreeable to the town and local community……but somehow we will come up with a viable use with 6 weeks to go? As Peter says above….we are tired of this. DEMOLISH it and unveil the beautiful Mead Park.

    • It is important that you know the facts: The NCPA and many other not-for-profits and private parties of this town have attempted multiple times over the decade to engage with the Town officials, specifically each First Selectman, in a conversation and negotiation of what it would take to restore and occupy the Barn. The Barn is structurally sound and this has been confirmed by a structural engineer. As far as the NCPA, a not-for-profit, we have a list of our attempts which will be enumerated at the Town Council meeting Wednesday evening. Further, the NCPA worked with the Town in 2013 applying for a grant from CT Trust which was awarded for the Barn’s restoration. The grant was let lapse—3rd party money to restore it, not taxpayer money — was left on the table by the Town. It is not for lack of trying that no progress has been achieved. Sticking to the facts: this is a Town owned building, purchased in 1933 from Standard Oil. Until the recent past, this has been productively used community resource and maintained by the town. The condition of the barn today is the result of Town officials’ neglect. It has been publically admitted by town officials that no money has been spent on the maintenance of this building for a very long time. And, in fact, the town has left this building open to public traffic and only recently started locking it. The NCPA has a plan which will restore the Barn converting a Town embarrassment into an attraction. This project will be fully underwritten by the NCPA relieving the town of all immediate costs (demolition) and future expense (maintenance) for decades to come.

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