High Praise for ‘Respectful’ Renovation and Expansion at Hoyt and Main


A newly renovated house on a prominent Main Street corner is earning high praise for its preservation of the original 1903 structure that stands there and consideration for the neighborhood’s streetscape, as well as a respectful expansion that a series of prior owners had failed to execute, experts say.

224 Main St. in New Canaan. Credit: Michael Dinan

224 Main St. in New Canaan. Credit: Michael Dinan

The recently completed alterations at 224 Main St. follow a stripping-off of additions and siding to get to an original “skeleton of the house” that was retained and then expanded on “in a way that looks as though they grew it over the past 100 years, like a natural progression of architecture, and that’s fantastic,” said New Canaan resident Martin Skrelunas, an architecture and landscape preservationist.

“The parts that the developer tore off were themselves very insensitive, they had no relationship to the antique house or the neighborhood,” Skrelunas continued. “What I would say they’ve done—and I hate using these words because they’re not easy to translate—but they’re respecting the original building and ‘maintaining the hierarchy.’ So the antique portion of the house is the most important and largest in this case, and as each new function was designed and built, it recedes a little bit. Nothing seems to be higher or larger than the original house, so it’s not overdone. Everything embraces the original design, but it’s slightly smaller and more respectful of what had been there. And they’re using the same materials, in fact they’ve even brought in the same stone that the house was built on, and clad the addition in the same stone.”

224 Main St. prior to the Shizari renovation.

224 Main St. prior to the Tony Shizari renovation and expansion.

The restoration/expansion at 224 Main—what many locals will remember as the home address of Joan Ballots, longtime gym teacher at Saxe—is a “perfect model,” Skrelunas said, for an approach to preservation in New Canaan that often is sorely missing: Incorporating an older, existing house into a plan that includes some new construction and maintains the attractive character of a neighborhood.

Realtors and developers say that’s often a more costly prospect than flat-out tearing down and rebuilding—and more time-consuming, in part because of the special permitting process in the New Canaan Zoning Regulations—though there’s a definite payoff for a pleasing result that incorporates preservation.

The developer for 224 Main St., Tony Shizari (design by New Canaan’s James Schetttino Architects and built by Lee Schettino Construction, LLC), who also has taken on projects on Green Avenue and Crystal Street with the Schettinos, said he’s found it to be critical to choose homes that possess character and also meet specific criteria, such as sufficient building height (interior, a ceiling of eight feet or higher) and square footage on the lot, so that the older structure can take additional construction to become a modern home.

Before-and-after photos of a Tony Shizari project on Crystal Street in New Canaan.

Before-and-after photos of a Tony Shizari project on Crystal Street in New Canaan.

Preserving the rooflines at the 224 Main meant gaining less square footage than a typical teardown-and-rebuild would have afforded, but Shizari said he feels a house such as this should sell quickly and that though his profit margin may be lessened somewhat by using high-quality materials, there’s a payoff as a local New Canaanite in standing behind his work.

“I’m going to live in this town for the rest of my life, and I want my kids to live here, so I want to drive by what I develop and take pride in that, and so I want to make sure that what I develop in town is enjoyed not only by me but by others,” Shizari said. “That’s why I’m part of the [Planning & Zoning] Commission, because I want to promote maintaining and enhancing the character of own town.”

Shizari, who works in the field of finance, was quick to note that he intends to turn a profit on the property (purchased in April 2013 for $907,000, tax records show), but that he likely would’ve turned a higher profit by knocking down the original structure and going with conforming new construction.

Before-and-after photos of a Tony Shizari project on Green Avenue in New Canaan.

Before-and-after photos of a Tony Shizari project on Green Avenue in New Canaan.

Speaking for himself and not on behalf of P&Z, Shizari said it’s not fair to blame developers for doing that “because the regulations make it much simpler for them to knock down and build a box, and maximize square footage and profits.”

“This process, to renovate and expand, is a lot more challenging and costly,” Shizari said.

One way to motivate developers to take on more projects similar to 224 Main is for residents to raise the prospect of amending the zoning regulations so that there is relief for preservation.

“For example, if I choose to renovate a property, it would be great to get additional coverage,” Shizari said. “There are provisions in the regulations where I could do those things with Special Permits, but the process becomes much longer. So for me to knock down and build a new house that meets the existing regs, it’s very quick for me to get a permit, without a need for a Special Permit. Otherwise you are looking at adding maybe three, four months to the process and significant cost.”

275 Main St., New Canaan

275 Main St., New Canaan

Yet changing the Zoning Regulations is a complicated, involved process, and a town also must be careful in what it puts in the provisions so that people don’t take advantage, he said.

“As an example, if I was given some relief, if I had applied for a Special Permit, I could have put in a 2-car detached garage that would be more in line with the neighborhood, and I was hesitant to do that because I didn’t get good feedback from neighbors. Because the neighbors had seen the track record of developers and they’re worried about the final outcome—and I totally understand that. They worry, because they’ve seen what has happened to certain neighborhoods.”

275 Main St., New Canaan

275 Main St., New Canaan

Realtors say that consideration for the character of an entire neighborhood in deciding between a comprehensive home renovation or rebuild affects property values all around.

Denise Gannalo of 275 Main St., sales vice president at William Raveis Real Estate, said her stately 1910 home was “teardown material” at the time she bought it in 2004.

“The house was in very bad condition, basically the plaster and studs were exposed,” Gannalo said of the home, which sits on .72 acres in a one-third-acre zone.

Property behind 275 Main St., New Canaan

Property behind 275 Main St., New Canaan

“I could have built a McMansion of a monstrosity on this property, but I like the bones of the house, the character of the house and I really wanted to keep it that way in age and vintage,” she said.

Renovation work included upgrading from two to 4.5 bathrooms, adding a 3-car garage, installing period moldings and details and a legal apartment.

Asked how desirable it is to take on that type of project rather than tearing down to rebuild, Gannalo said: “It’s very desirable, and it takes a lot of time and effort. My project took well over a year. I could have knocked it down and built something else probably far more quickly than that. But this house has been standing for 100 years and it has a lot of character and history.”

22 Harrison Ave., New Canaan. Credit: Michael Dinan

22 Harrison Ave., New Canaan. Credit: Michael Dinan

Realtor Wendy Werneburg of William Raveis said part of what makes the town so attractive to prospective homebuyers is a charm that stems, in part, from a collected sense of heritage that is preserved in the houses here.

“If you tear down and build all new construction, it would lose that allure,” Werneburg said. “Of all the towns I can think of, people are drawn to the center of New Canaan the most, to Elm and Main, where the buildings are so well-maintained. We live in an older part of the country, and it’s a huge draw for New Canaan to have this feel of a quintessential cute, charming town.”

Werneburg pointed to a newly renovated home at 22 Harrison Ave. as another example of opting for a renovation rather than a teardown, and in a way that “still exudes the charm and quality of yesteryear.”

“They really wanted to maintain as much of the style from the original 1923 structure with the moldings and doors to make sure that it blends well with the neighborhood,” she said.

For Shizari, blending with the neighborhood of Main Street at Hoyt meant keeping the front elevation and preserving the grass in front of the porch. “If you live in that house, you want to be close with your neighbors and talk to them and to people on the sidewalk,” Shizari said.

The home was completely gutted and all but about 30 percent of the original framing were replaced, he said.

“The goal was to modernize the house and at the same time to maintain and improve the original character and use of materials,” Shizari said. “On Main Street, we knew that the original house had a beautiful porch, had frontage on Main, so we maintained and expanded the porch to make it more of a central focus. To me, I think of how you want to sit there and watch the Memorial Day Parade, so that was the purpose of keeping the front elevation of the house and bringing it back to life.”

For Skrelunas, it’s “extremely rare” to see this degree of care go into a project in New Canaan­—it’s something far more common in areas such as the suburbs of Boston where “the new architecture really respects the heritage architecture, so it can still feel like an early settlement when you’re in that area.”

Of 224 Main St., he added: “I guess I’m just so fascinated and respectful of the fact that they didn’t tear the house down to the ground.”

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