Local preservationists are seeking to create an expanded historic district in New Canaan.
The town’s current Historic District, created in 1963, includes 21 structures around God’s Acre.
Under a proposal made public Tuesday by members of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, the “Church Hill Historic District” would also encompass Vine Cottage and qualifying homes on Seminary Street and St. John Place, as well as additional structures on Main Street, according to a presentation by Neele Stichnoth and Lea Cromwell, president and vice president, respectively, of the NCPA board.
The district would be “much more expanded and it will offer tremendous protection to local residents, now that we know that a third of an acre can wind up with a 20-unit development on it,” Stichnoth told members of the Board of Selectmen during their regular meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. She referred to an 8-30g affordable housing proposal, now before the Planning & Zoning Commission, at the former Red Cross building at 51 Main St.
A Pawtucket, R.I.-based firm called the Public Archaeology Laboratory or PAL “has identified it [the Church Hill Historic District] as one of the town’s principal concentrations of well-preserved 18th- through early 20th-Century houses and churches in the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival , Late Victorian and Colonial Revival styles,” she said.
The selectmen said they would consult with the town attorney and take up a vote during their next meeting (Sept. 20) on a $10,000 contract with PAL to kickstart the process of identifying qualifying structures for the proposed new historic district, with an eye on the NCPA serving as an intermediary in preparing an application for the National Register (as it did in recent years with Waveny). The NCPA representatives said their own organization would pick up all additional costs.
The multiple steps needed to create a historic district are laid out in Section 7-147b of the Connecticut General Statutes. After the properties proposed for the historic district are identified, two-thirds of property owners must vote in favor in order for the district to move forward. Local officials and bodies that would weigh in include a committee dedicated to the task, first selectman, Planning & Zoning Commission and Town Council.
According to Stichnoth and Cromwell, the Historic District Commission more than 30 years ago led an effort to form the Church Hill Historic District and have it included on the National Register “except that the owners decided they did not want to be part of a historic district.”
Asked how the NCPA planned to address the same potential problem now, Cromwell said the organization would host informational sessions for homeowners.
“There’s such a misconception about what being in a historic district means and we would like to correct the misconceptions,” she said. “Nobody is telling a property owner you can’t do this or that when in fact it benefits” them via grants and tax deductions.
In all, about 67 properties appear to qualify for the Church Hill Historic District, the NCPA said.
According to Stichnoth, next steps include walking the proposed Church Hill Historic District area with PAL to decide on boundaries and qualifying properties, then getting on the meeting agenda of the State Historic Preservation Office for October in order to have an application ready in early-2023.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectmen Kathleen Corbet and Nick Williams all spoke in favor of the plan.