The owners of a prominent, antique Valley Road home that’s slated for demolition say they’re confused by a letter that New Canaan town officials sent Monday, urging them to work toward preserving the house.
That’s because the owner of 1124 Valley Road—Norwalk’s First Taxing District—on March 27 met with New Canaan’s highest elected official and others and proposed selling the house and property it sits on to a local organization for a price that group has said it can afford, according to Dominick DiGangi, general manager of the First District Water Department.
Specifically, DiGangi told NewCanaanite.com, he proposed a lot line reconfiguration that would bring the 18th Century home onto an adjacent New Canaan Land Trust parcel for less than $1.2 million while then also adding some land to the existing 4-acre parcel at 1124 Valley Road so that it still meets setback distances under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations.
The 4-acre property itself is no longer for sale as such, DiGangi said.
“We are not going to change our mind about the land,” he said.
“I don’t know why we keep going down that road, but we will maintain the property. We are willing to do a little land manipulation to save the house. That is where we are. The ball is in their court. I gave them a price, a bunch of conditions, and we are waiting to hear back. But there is no discussion about the sale of the four acres. We will not entertain a sale of the property. We have created a solution to save the house so that is where we are.”
He added: “As far as I am concerned, we are waiting hear back from them. We created a little lot with the house on it, with all appropriate setbacks and a little less than one acre added to the balance to create a legal lot. I have to protect my investment. I have ratepayers, I have taxpayers. That is who I answer to.”
If nothing changes, the conspicuous red house opposite the intersection at Benedict Hill Road can be razed on or about May 13. That’s 90 days after the Feb. 12 demolition permit application made on behalf of the property owner—a move that attorney James Fulton, a trustee for the taxing district, has attributed to the high cost of maintaining the vacant house.
The demo delay of 90 days was imposed following a unanimous vote by the Historical Review Committee.
In an April 9 letter signed by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Town Council Chairman John Engel, the pair urge the First District to forgo demolition of the house, saying they speak for themselves as well as members of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, New Canaan Historical Society, New Canaan Land Trust, Board of Selectmen, Town Council, Planning & Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission.
“The citizens of New Canaan are asking that we work with you to avoid the loss of an historic homestead and facilitate a constructive dialogue to preserve the house and land,” the letter said.
Later, it said: “A wide range of constituencies in New Canaan have expressed strong interest in this property. Some of them wish to preserve the historic house, specifically the New Canaan Historical Society and the New Canaan Preservation Alliance. They have historically documented the property and have enlisted the assurances of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation to possibly ask for state support in funding the house’s preservation. Others in New Canaan have an interest in maintaining the 4 acres of property as natural, open space, specifically the New Canaan Land Trust which holds the 10.5 acre wildlife sanctuary just to the north of this parcel. The organization has already quietly begun the process of raising money in the hope the property can be purchased. But, these groups cannot raise money without knowing that the property and house are obtainable at a fair cost.”
The letter closes: “The purpose of this letter is to formally express that interest to you. Those groups have asked me, and I am asking you, to engage in constructive discussion between the people of the two towns so that our mutual interests can be served: the first Taxing District of Norwalk can get a fair price for the property while determining absolutely and in perpetuity that this property will have no impact on their adjacent reservoir and the coalition of conservation and preservation organizations get an opportunity to acquire the property at a fair market price.”
In a formal objection letter to the planned razing, town resident Mimi Findlay, chairman emerita of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, noted that a Historical Society-commissioned report found that “the first record of this property was in 1761 when Caleb St. John purchased 10 acres ‘with appurtenances’ from Elizabeth Everett, later buying more land, but no dwelling house from her, selling it to her son Joseph in 1795.”
The history continued: “Joseph Everett was a farmer who had married, as his second wife, Hannah St. John, in the Congregational Church, and had seven children. When Joseph died in 1804 his oldest child, Esther, who was married to Silas Whitlock at the time, inherited the property. The remaining architectural features from this Federal period structure consist of a basement cooking hearth, a stone foundation and hand hewn posts and beams, indicating a one story, one-room cottage. There is no bake-oven in the basement fireplace, although there may have been one in a fireplace above it, now covered over or removed. It is possible that the owners, the Everetts, did not Iive in this cottage or perhaps were tenant farmers on a larger farm.”
Findlay called the comprehensive history and list of owners “impressive and informative.”
“Not only are there the old New Canaan names but also two immigrant families as well, participants in early our 19th c Militia, World War 1, and the Korean War. From tenant farmers, cobblers, a tanner, perhaps a mill-owner, to gentleman farmer with professional help on his 200 acres, a window opens onto centuries of New Canaan’s cultural and social history.”