The New Canaan man who last year purchased the ca. 1889-built Red Cross building on Main Street said a decision on just what to do with it—for example, whether to convert vacant structure into a residence or commercial use—depends largely on what the town plans to do with another antique next door.
Whatever the town or another future owner of Vine Cottage decides to do with it, no part of Arnold Karp’s vision for 51 Main St. involves tearing down the former Red Cross building, installing condominiums or otherwise changing “the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Yet it wouldn’t make sense to pursue a much-needed overhaul of the building’s interior with a residential use in mind if Vine Cottage is razed for Town Hall parking because “nobody wants to live next to a parking lot.” Similarly, if the ca. 1860-built Vine Cottage were preserved as a residence, the two properties together could make for a nice “historical enclave,” Karp said.
“We are trying to ascertain what the town wants to do with Vine Cottage, because our concept would be if they decide if they will ‘deaccession’ Vine Cottage, what would be better than a nice historic corner there with the Red Cross and Vine Cottage?’ Karp said
“What we do with one may have no impact on the other, but it might make sense to do two projects at once, right? The first step is: The town needs to decide to keep it or not. If they will, we will do a project involving the Red Cross building that might entail even us offering a piece of property back to the Town of New Canaan for parking, since the town is using the parking there already. It might make sense to make a very nice colonial corner there between us and Vine Cottage.”
It’s far from clear what the town will do with the building.
Last March, members of the Town Council said they needed to understand Vine Cottage’s long-term purpose in rejecting a proposal to renovate it for an estimated $550,000.
Currently, Vine Cottage houses the town’s Human Services Department. In November, town officials said that members of that department feel they should be physically separated from Town Hall in order to preserve the confidentiality of clients.
A selectmen-appointed committee in a December report said New Canaan should put off a decision on renovating or offloading Vine Cottage until a final decision is reached on just where the Board of Education could be relocated—which, in turn, could help determine where the Human Services Department could end up. (The first selectman has called for the district to move its administrative offices into the upper floor of the Police Department, itself a proposal that must undergo either an entire capital budget or special appropriation process.)
“We can’t make a decision on what we want to do with [the Red Cross building] until we understand what are the town’s thoughts on Vine Cottage,” Karp said. “Building next to a parking lot one thing, a commercial building is another. If somebody buys Vine Cottage and turns it into single-family residence, that would be nice to know.”
Karp, of Karp Associates in New Canaan, noted that his firm restores and renovates more buildings than it razes. (His designs for the neglected Greek Revival at 4 Main St. in the Historic District call for a restoration there.)
Members of the town body that oversees the area around God’s Acre, the Historic District Commission, said at a meeting last week that they want to invite Karp to come and address the group about his plans for the Red Cross building. (The Red Cross building is in the Historic District while Vine Cottage is not.)
Karp said he would be willing to speak to the Historic District Commission so long as certain individuals—for example, people who have been arrested on the site of Merritt Village across town after refusing to leave the burial ground there—were not present.
“As long as people who are suing the town and making my life difficult on a personal and professional basis are going to ask me question that they are not really entitled to ask me, I am not going,” he said.