New Canaanites Eye Expansion of State Law That Allows for ‘Demolition Delay’ of 180 Days


New Canaan preservationists are watching the progress of an addendum to a state law that alllows Connecticut towns to delay by 180 days—as opposed to just 90—the razing of a structure, following a demolition application filed with local building officials.

Senate Bill 330—an updated version of which arrived on the governor’s desk Monday and was endorsed 4-0 by New Canaan’s delegation to the state legislature—would take effect Oct. 1.

The local ordinance that New Canaan developed exactly 10 years ago, outlined in section 12a of the Town Code, allows for a 90-day delay on a proposed demolition in cases where a formal letter of objection is filed with the Town Building Official and a committee then finds that the structure in question has “architectural, historical, or cultural importance.” Under the update to the state law, a homeowner during the delay would not be able to perform asbestos abatement, an important change.

The new text reads, in part: “If a waiting period is imposed by a town … the person seeking the permit shall take no action toward demolition of the building, structure or part thereof, including, but not limited to, site remediation and asbestos abatement, during the waiting period. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply in the event that the building official determines that compliance with this subsection would result in a danger to public health.”

Mike Farrell, chairman of the New Canaan Historical Review Committee, said the town may now look at its own 90-day ordinance and decide to update it so that locally, demolition delays go to the full allowable 180. When the town developed its ordinance in 2006, “we were simply trying to do what we could do within the state statutes at that time,” Farrell said.

“I am not aware of all that is behind the change in the state statutes—I have not researched that topic yet—but I would suspect that it has been driven by the experience in other towns of the laws of significant historical structures because of the short time allowed and the difficulty in acting within that time. So my assumption would be that the state of Connecticut has recognized that it is more appropriate to have more power to enforce the delay. In effect to not impose such weak limits on the demolition of historical buildings.”

The state law was co-introduced by a group that includes state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), who represents Darien and Norwalk. He could not immediately be reached for comment. Each of New Canaan’s delegates to the Connecticut General Assembly—state Reps. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and Fred Wilms (R-142), and state Sens. Toni Boucher (R-26) and Scott Frantz (R-36)—voted in favor of the update. O’Dea, a New Canaanite, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation spoke out in favor of the update. The nonprofit organization during testimony in March called the new bill an enhancement to an existing statute “that allows Connecticut municipalities to enact ordinances that impose a waiting period before issuing a demolition permit for buildings more than fifty years old.”

“The proposed amendment addresses an unfortunate trend of interior demolition permitted in the name of site remediation and asbestos abatement that renders a structure too damaged or compromised to re-market, transfer, or sell to a party intent on rehabilitation and reinvestment rather than demolition. This proposed change would allow such remediation to proceed only upon issuance of a demolition permit at the end of the authorized delay period.”

According to Farrell, New Canaan since enacting its own local ordinance has issued perhaps a half-dozen or eight demolition delays, following the required public hearings.

“There still remain questions about demolition through neglect, in effect intentional neglect of buildings for the purpose of eliminating them, and this has resulted in the loss of some historical buildings,” Farrell said. “So the maintenance of our significant history in Connecticut is a challenge that I think this [proposed legislation] is a welcome response to that challenge and will help the cause of preserving Connecticut’s history.”

In New Canaan, the most recent demolition delay concerns a 1735-built historic home on Ferris Hill Road. The 90-day delay for that structure expires after May 31. A group of local preservationists have stepped in with a bid to purchase the property in question from a developer, with the idea of selling it on to a buyer who is interested in acquiring the 2.14-acre lot and building on it in such a way as to preserve the antique house there. No building permit application has been filed to do any interior demolition or remediation work on the home.

According to Farrell, New Canaan took an unusual step in developing its own demolition delay ordinance by allowing the owner of a property who is concerned about its sale to apply in advance for a decision from the committee, prior to putting in for a demolition permit.

“This means that basically, a developer comes to a property and its owner, and says, ‘I am thinking of buying your property and you have this old building and I would buy it with the intention of tearing it down but if I buy it and then I find that I request a building permit and I am turned down and delayed, then that costs me money,’ ” Farrell said. “I think this was initiated by those in real estate changes and developers. So we have a sort of a safety valve in New Canaan.”

[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with the text from the updated bill itself.]

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