As an apparent deadline for the town to move forward with the demolition of the Mead Park Brick Barn looms, preservationists have obtained the opinion of a prominent attorney that New Canaan’s legislative body may legally undo its approval of funds to raze the widely discussed structure.
Citing case law that specifies a town’s legislative body “possesses the unquestioned power to rescind prior acts,” attorney Daniel E. Casagrande, a partner at Danbury-based Career & Anderson, concludes that “the Town Council has the inherent power to rescind or reduce its appropriation for the demolition of the Barn.”
“Neither the Charter nor the General Statutes contain any provision barring the Town Council from rescinding or reducing an appropriation,” Casagrande wrote in a Dec. 18 opinion sent to members of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, which had retained him.
“Similarly, the Town Council’s rules contain no restriction on its authority to rescind or reduce an appropriation. Finally, since the Board of Selectmen has not yet acted to award a demolition contract, no vested rights in any third party have intervened that would limit the Town Council’s rescission power.”
Casagrande referred to the Town Council’s vote in May to approve $65,000 for the Barn’s demolition—a 6-6 tie broken by the first selectman, as per the Town Charter.
The attorney’s findings come as New Canaan nears a deadline with respect to two companies that won bids to tear down the century-old structure at the northern edge of Mead Park— where Standard Oil’s horse-drawn delivery wagons used to fill containers for fuel delivery in New Canaan—and dispose safely of its remains. At its Oct. 23 meeting, a divided Board of Selectmen decided to forgo voting on those contracts. Awarded Oct. 18, the agreements reached with two companies that would do the demo and disposal work include a provision that they will hold their rates for 90 days—or until Jan. 16. Selectman Nick Williams indicated at the October meeting that those 90 days represented a window during which the NCPA must either demonstrate to the town that it has the money to restore and maintain the structure at 64 Richmond Hill Road, or else that it must be demolished. (The town may ask the companies for an extension of those 90 days, officials said.)
Yet it remains unclear whether the selectmen will reach a majority decision to award the demo contracts even if the 90 days lapse. As recently as last month, Williams and Selectman Kit Devereaux at a Board meeting called for the NCPA to be given an opportunity to restore and maintain the building at its own expense while First Selectman Kevin Moynihan remains single-minded about seeing it razed.
Moynihan in the past has pointed to the Town Council’s May vote in arguing why the structure should come down. Other bodies that have voted in favor of the Barn’s razing include the Parks & Recreation Commission and, in its own particular language under state statute, the Planning & Zoning Commission.
The NCPA first approached the town with its plan for restoring and maintaining the Barn as an office over the summer. In recent weeks and months, it has done more formal work, according to Rose Scott Long Rothbart, a board member with the nonprofit organization.
A team of architects, engineers and professional builders has surveyed the Barn, measured it, drawn it up and produced draft contract documents that have been sent to the State Historic Preservation Office in Hartford. That agency now is reviewing those documents to give the NCPA “a preliminary yes” that they will fund the NCPA’s project, Scott Long Rothbart said.
“We are trying to get that a preliminary yes from them so that the town knows that that the funding is actually there and coming through,” she said.
Casagrande said in his legal opinion, which was sent to the town Dec. 19, that “at least until the Board of Selectmen awards a contract for the demolition of the Barn pursuant to the Town Council’s appropriation for that purpose, the Town Council is free to rescind or reduce that appropriation in its legislative judgment.”