Op-Ed: The Brick Barn Risk to Taxpayers

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The Mead Park Brick Barn debate should focus on New Canaan taxpayers. Should we underwrite the cost of preserving the Barn in perpetuity? Most would say no. 

The New Canaan Preservation Alliance claims that its September 12 proposal “Eliminates all Town costs related to [the] Barn.” That’s what taxpayers want to hear. But the claim would be true only if the State of Connecticut continues grant and tax credit programs at current levels for several years, if the State approves the full amount of NCPA submissions in each of three consecutive years, and if private donations are sufficient to defray any short-term and long-term maintenance costs not funded by the State. 

That’s a lot of “ifs.” They add up to significant financial risks to future taxpayers. For how long? Once the first of several proposed grants is made, the State would expect the property to remain in place for the long term, perhaps for 35 years. Even if the State money dries up after the initial grant, the Town could be on the hook for decades. 

Much has been made of the fact that six Town Council members voted in May against funding the immediate demolition of the Barn. I was one of the six. My vote was intended to ensure that the NCPA had a final opportunity to present a comprehensive proposal. Now they have. 

The creativity, professionalism and dedication of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance should be applauded. They did the best anyone could with the resources available. Now it’s time to move on. 

12 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Brick Barn Risk to Taxpayers

  1. i completely agree with Tom that now is the time to move on. Both the Town Council and Board of Selectmen voted “YES” to demolish the eyesore barn. The NCPA has not had months, but has had years to raise funds to restore the barn …. but all we get is talk.
    Taxpayers will recall with the teen Outback center was in its early development stages that they “swore on a stack of bibles” that the Town (also known as we taxpayers) would never have to put one cent into the building or maintenance of the project — just look where we stand on that issue now!
    It’s not just the Barn neighbors who want it gone. It’s the vast majority of New Canaan TAXPAYERS who also want it gone … finally!

  2. How do we know what the state will provide unless we ask??? If there is already funding available with the 65k as well as funding by the Preservation Alliance, it would appear that corpus of the projected repair estimate is well on its way to financial stability. If this is the case. the State might be responsive to grant requests for additional historical preservation. When the Brick Barn is once again a viable building, it would become an attractive site for future use as a rental, town use or as a museum. Once again, we do not want New Canaan to look like it was founded in 2000.

    • What did you have in mind for future uses:

      1. rental — to baseball league who has no money to spend?
      2. “town use” — we already have more buildings than we need?
      3. museum — for what? where would people park? zoning issues?

      Some years ago during the Dick Bond as First Selectman era, he and others tried to push the Old Faithful fire engines into the barn — that idea got slammed down pretty quickly, and not just by immediate neighbors.

      Just like not having any real money in hand, the NCPA doesn’t have any specific ideas about how the barn would be used … even though they have had years (not just months) to figure the money and usage out!

    • The NCPA proposal returns the $65,000 estimated cost of demolition (taxpayer funds now reserved for in a bond we taxpayers will be paying off for years to come so not including interest) to the Town’s General Fund for use elsewhere–an immediate savings to the Town. We utilize privately raised monies, state preservation grants and tax credits totaling $263,000–to restore the building–a gift to the Town and community. We then assume all maintenance costs during our lease term of the building–a long term and continuing savings to the Town or taxpayer. A gift that keeps giving.

  3. I agree with Tom. It is perhaps harsh, but the condition of having perpetual financial responsibility resting with some organization other than the Town is the only way to even consider keeping this building. Nothing so far comes close to meeting that standard, after all the years of talking about it. The time has come to finish this once and for all and move on.

    • Please go to savemeadparkbrickbarn.org and review the presentation made to TC on the 12th with the Alliance’s plan. The New Canaan Preservation Alliance will assume all costs of the restoration and maintenance for the lease term we enter into with the Town. We originally suggested 99 years, which is what is common for not-for-profits. South Avenue Cottages, has a 90 year lease from the Town. But since some thought this too long, in our presentation we suggested a lease with a minimum term of 20 years, extendable. During the lease term in addition to the costs of restoration up-front, we will assume ALL annual maintenance costs, This structure has a footprint of only 800 sq ft. Our offer to the Town frees it of financial burden for hard and soft costs. This is what is exactly what was requested by Kevin Moynihan and by the TC’s Building Evaluation Committee.

  4. I agree it’s time to move on. But here’s a 180 difference. Let’s move on from a stuck in the mud narrative about the funding and the statement that there is a lack of it. That is a canard. Let’s give this a chance. Certainly, there should be timelines for progress but all that’s been heard from the loudest is to get rid of it now, now, now and a deaf ear turned to the opposite proposition — and yes, there is one, a good one. It is extremely odd that one can advocate for the taxpayer while saying we need to spend $65K (conservative estimate(?)/ sum approved by the Board) to tear something down that has withstood & defied neglect by the Town, IS on the Historic Register and might show the way for Town in the evaluation of current & future historic properties by accessing grants that relieve NC taxpayers from responsibility.

  5. Let’s state some facts here. The funding that the NCPA has access to is part of a Federal Mandate. If the State discontinues the preservation program then it will be penalized with the Federal Government withholding Federal funds from many state programs. The State of Connecticut can not afford to go this route.

    When a structure is certified and meets the rigorous state preservation criteria, then access to those funds is ongoing for preservation and maintenance for the life of the building. Residential and commercial structures qualify as well as ancillary buildings such as barns.

    As the NCPA outlined in their plan, they will be using these funds and private monies to preserve the barn. The funds are guaranteed.

  6. Jennifer, maybe I’m focusing on the wrong program. I looked into CT Historic Restoration Fund (title used in NCPA presentation), which has the following requirements:
    (1) Must be matched dollar-for-dollar with cash, a fact not mentioned in the NCPA presentation. (2) Must be single maintenance and repair/preservation projects as opposed to smaller components of a larger construction project–NCPA is proposing multi-component project because each year’s application is limited to $50K and they need $175K. (3) In the most recent HRF contract I could find online, it states that “this grant application is one-time in nature and . . . there is no obligation for additional funding.” (4) Acceptance of HRF applications is conditioned on funds being available.

    So, I’m not sure what. you mean when you say “the funds are guaranteed.” Am I looking at the wrong program? I trust that you’re correct as to the impracticality of CT shutting down the HRF program entirely. But that didn’t stop CT from slashing the maximum grant by 75% last year, to $50K. Are they prohibited from slashing it again?

    On another note, it’s a condition of HRF grants that the building be open to the public or that the work be visible to the public. How that would be satisfied for interior work on a storage facility seems problematic.

    Thanks, Jennifer.

    • Tom, Historic Restoration Fund is a state law (CT10-411) with the preservation funds coming from the CT Community Investment Act (CIA) law (Public Act 05-228) aka “The Act concerning Farmland Preservation, Land Protection, Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation”. CIA is funded by the local recording fees and provides $5 million annually . Access to the fund is continuous and can be used for multiple projects hence the NCPA’s plan over the three years. The HRF and CIA are both state laws with CIA becoming law in 2005.

      It is disappointing that multiple town administrations have not been more proactive in light of the capital requirements of many the town’s historic buildings. It appears to me that they prefer to do demolition by neglect and willful blindness.

      Note this act also has a fund for open space.

      https://www.cga.ct.gov/2015/pub/chap_184b.htm#sec_10-411) and https://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=1366&q=320938

  7. 2011 2 bids for demolition $135m and $400+ Selectmen meeting
    it seems that $65m may not be a good number — I am
    sure we would not want to spend $400m+ and maybe not $135m

    • I think what is more concerning is that the Town doesn’t have an estimate BEFORE going to the capital markets for a bond. As someone who works in financial services, it raises questions on the management of the town finances and its overall process. Before approving, the Town Council should have as part of the “ask” package the back up materials to support the amounts. This is management 101.

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