Saying the abandonment—and, by implication, demolition—of a century-old, vacant brick building at the northern edge of Mead Park has been approved by multiple town bodies in the past, would improve the view there and is consistent with development guidelines for New Canaan, the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to support a plan to relinquish it.
Because the “Mead Park Brick Barn” or “Richmond Hill Garage” at 64 Richmond Hill Road is a town-owned building, P&Z approval is required under state law to “abandon” it.
Even with P&Z’s 9-0 vote, however, the future of the building remains as unclear as it has since last week, when the Board of Selectmen decided to forgo voting on contracts to demolish it and dispose safely of its remains. During an interview after P&Z’s vote, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, a proponent of demolition, said the contracts must come back to the selectmen for a vote (the Board is scheduled to meet Nov. 6).
Referring to parts of New Canaan’s periodically updated Plan of Conservation and Development or ‘POCD,’ P&Z Commissioners asserted that clearing the area of the brick structure offered advantages that outweighed what could be gained by preserving it.
Chairman John Goodwin said the POCD requires New Canaan to “make some tradeoffs” with respect to historic buildings such as barns.
“We have to make some decisions and we have to think about what is historic,” Goodwin said.
Other Commissioners said razing the structure would improve an area that includes a memorial walk dedicated to New Canaan men killed during World War II, that New Canaan has spent time and money to make the northern edge of Mead Park more pedestrian-accessible and that some on other town bodies have raised questions about the building’s true historic value.
One nonprofit organization in town, the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, has made the case that the Mead Park building is historic—it’s where Standard Oil’s horse-drawn delivery wagons used to fill containers for fuel delivery in New Canaan, for example—and has brought forward a plan for its restoration, maintenance and low-impact, single-floor use as office space. Several members of the group attended the meeting, though P&Z did not take public comment on the matter.
Tiger Mann, New Canaan’s public works director, gave a formal presentation to the town that traced the history of the Mead Park Brick Barn, including the town’s multiple decisions to demolish it.
Commissioners asked Mann how much money has been budgeted to remove the building and dispose of the asbestos and lead paint there (two bids came in for the job at about $40,000), whether the underground area around the building has been tested for petrol chemicals (yes), on what grounds the Historical Review Committee voted 3-2 in favor of granting a 90-day demolition day in July (one member of that body changed his vote during a lengthy discussion), what are future plans for that part of Mead Park (for one thing, dying trees that line the Gold Star Walk could be replanted) and why one plan for the area includes preserving the slab of the building (it would mark an entryway to Mead Park).
Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams have signaled that they want to give the NCPA a chance to demonstrate in the near term that the organization can sufficiently restore and maintain the facility. Moynihan has raised a question about whether the Board of Selectmen can effectively work against a decision from town bodies such as the Town Council to raze the building.