10 thoughts on “Affordable Housing: Commission Denies Application for ‘Certificate of Appropriateness’ at Red Cross Building

  1. Opposition to this proposed development is such that some would rather risk the loss of the historic structure to the alternative of demolition.

    • This is a timely comment regarding insight on how developers operate (i.e. give us what we want or we will demolish what is there and logically I would presume rezone using 830g to 30-50 units per acre density) as the town considers its new POCD. I encourage residents to attend the next POCD sessions (one took place last Thursday which was sparsely attended in my view) https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/7bc989d70f804b06855301e53f1cbd17.

      • Yet property owners can demolish the buildings that they own as-of-right, Giacomo. There’s a town committee that can delay them, which can be costly, but ultimately the people who buy inanimate things like buildings have the right to replace or get rid of them if they want. Is that a right that should be tampered with? It’s true that some property owners pursue demolition without a permit and ask for forgiveness later, but with the exception of the Maples Inn many years ago, it’s your regular private homeowners and not professional developers who apply for after-the-fact demo permits. At least from what I’ve seen.

        • Here is the difference – you demolish your house and put up another or you demolish your house and put up 30-50 units. We appear to be moving toward the latter.

          • But demolition permits are not tied to what comes next. There’s no field on a demolition permit application form for future plans. Sometimes a long-neglected and deteriorating structure like the Red Cross building is demolished and the lot sits vacant for years. Sometimes newly vacant lots are sold on to a new owner. The ordinance, like other laws, doles out equal treatment to property owners, whether it’s an oversized parcel near the downtown, such as at Weed and Elm, or an undersized corner lot in the B Residential Zone. Again, residents can propose changes to an ordinance or to the Zoning Regulations, and you can update the POCD, but my guess is you’d have a lot of people objecting to a loss of property owner’s rights. Look at the absurd situation at New Canaan Library, where P&Z imposed a preservation requirement on a private property owner who could’ve demolished the 1913 building as-of-right before ever applying for Special Permits for the rebuilding project. My sense is that the preservation of that structure has left a very bad taste in people’s mouths—never mind laughable comparisons between the 1913 building and Gulf Station garage, now that they’re back-to-back—and a desire to fully screen it from the green.

  2. We offered to save the historic building—just need to move it forward on the property. Sort of like the neighboring Vine Cottage. The contention that it will change the Historic District is a fools argument as many historical building were and still are located close to the street. It was in our application and discussed that working with us was certainly an option. However, the committee after saying it was “an important structure” has given us no flexibility. The committee’s view is that they would rather loose a “historical asset” rather than allow 20 units of housing (30 percent affordable units and 70 percent market rate units) is certainly regretable.

  3. Why don’t the developers match the architectural style of the Red Cross building? Or propose a design beyond the modern farmhouse / McUrbanist style represented in the proposed plans? This style will age like Brutalism (not well).

    • Thank you for your comment —Our architect previously presented a plan with a building that was in a style similar to the existing Red Cross building — an we were told by the opposition third party preservation architects during hearings not to follow the original building. Need to apply some common sense

  4. Why can’t the Red Cross building be restored to its previous beauty and become part of the Town Hall campus along with the Vine Cottage. Just because there Vine Cottage doesn’t have an elevator doesn’t make it an obvious choice to put up for sale by the town. Restore the buildings and keep them as part of the Town Hall campus without marring the facade of the Historic District. Perhaps Mr Karp could work in conjunction with the Historical Society to be part of this process instead of threatening to demolish it.

    • Hi Jennifer. The Vine Cottage is not in the Historic District. How that happened idk but the Red Cross building is the south-easternmost property included in it. Here’s a map of the Historic District. Also, after this meeting and knowing some of the back story on certain preservationists in town, I can’t see any sort of collaboration between them and Arnold Karp. (That’s what Commissioner Marty Skrelunas was calling for—didn’t happen.) With some very specific exceptions—such as the town’s purchase of 220 Elm St. for the Board of Ed offices, the Grove Street house that abuts the oversized Lumberyard Lot and conversion of the former teen center as both home to the Department of Human Services and rental space to private businesses—the town’s approach to ownership of buildings is that the government shouldn’t be in the landlord business. So any building that isn’t home to a municipal department could be offloaded. They get very expensive with maintenance, and of course they’re off the tax rolls so long as the town owns them. (A selectmen-appointed committee in 2017 issued a massive report that studied, evaluated and recommended uses for all town-owned buildings, and that was the gist.) Although the Health Department has been operating out of Vine Cottage for some years now—and that space served the agency well during COVID, where space itself was at a premium—the building itself has never been laid out for municipal use. Where the Health Department goes instead of Vine Cottage I don’t know. To my knowledge it’s a staff of four full-time people plus at least one or two part-timers. During the pandemic there were additional part-timers and volunteers helping to run clinics. In any case, to your idea of combining the properties, it’s too late since they have different and opposing owners now. Maybe that dynamic will change following the election—in many areas, the sitting first selectman’s version of talks/negotiations/events would seem consistently different from that of other parties. As Selectman Williams has noted in recent weeks, any purchase-and-sale agreement would include covenants in place to preserve the Vine Cottage’s unique architecture.

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