Preservationists Seek To Establish ‘Church Hill Historic District’ in New Canaan


Rendering of proposed "Church Hill Historic District" presented at the Sept. 6, 2022 Board of Selectmen meeting.

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.

11 thoughts on “Preservationists Seek To Establish ‘Church Hill Historic District’ in New Canaan

  1. Can property owners choose to opt out? Even if there are no negative ramifications for having one’s property included, why impose this on a property owner with a divisive 2/3 vote where clearly there are carve-outs for more modern structures within the limits of the proposed Historic District?

    • If this effort is a way of getting around the 8-30g project planned for the former Red Cross building (or potential similar project in the future at another site within the CHHD), letting a property owner opt out would defeat that effort. In the case of the Red Cross building, if Arnold Karp could opt out, I’m sure he would. And he could still proceed under 8-30g.

  2. Mike~
    Can you clarify your last sentence…..did you mean “all” not “both” in reference to the opinions of the selectmen and selectwoman.
    Thank you!

  3. I was around 30+ years ago when Dick Bergman, former resident, tried to set up an historic district that would include St. John’s Place and Seminary Street.
    The neighbors rallied and the idea was soundly trounced … just as it would be now if it got to a vote … trounced for the same reason “no one wants to be told what they can and can not do with THEIR OWN PROPERTY.”
    Preservationists: go back to pestering the new library supporters and leave us alone!!
    By the way, how many of you live in the proposed historic district?

  4. Yes, Dick Bergman was not just a former resident, he was the Head of the Historic District Commission which he led with an iron fist. That was happening locally.

    National Registry has evolved into an honorary designation. There is no downside, no one will tell you what you can or cannot do with your house. The goal is to identify areas of our Town that tell a story about how New Canaan developed and acknowledge and celebrate those areas that still exist.

    As an example, the NCPA spent years getting Waveny, not just the mansion but most of the estate on the National listing. Waveny is unique in that it is one of the last large estates in Fairfield County to have remained mostly intact. Yet the Town could and did opt to add an ice hockey rink this past winter, and had previously added the town pool, paddle courts, dog park, and a greatly expanded Lapham Center.

    The positives include grant money and tax credits for work you opt to do on your house… most importantly, there is also significant protection for the overall district.

    The NCPA will host several outreach meetings open to not only those owners who might be included in this potential new district but all New Canaanites who want to understand how we can protect our town. There may be a desire to create other historic districts, including one for our downtown. A State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) representative will be present to clarify what are the many misconceptions of what the National Listing means.

    Stay tuned!

    • Wow, then since the future commission will be so kind hearted I am sure there will be less meetings about building materials, historical accuracy , what can be seen from the street view along with requirements to be met than is currently the norm. Maybe the meetings will be held at the library.

  5. Regarding issues raised by Ms. Stichnoth, she may not want to have us remember that Bergman led with such an iron fist that he spent some $75,000 of taxpayer money on lawyer fees on this issue without getting any Town approval (as I recall Judy Neville was first select person at the time). The Town /we taxpayers had to pay that bill.
    If the “historic expanders” want it so badly, let them pony up the initial $10,000 as well as any other bills incurred.

  6. So pleased to hear that Ms. Stichnoth has decided what the next steps are.
    How about saving the taxpayers of New Canaan $9,959.80, by simply sending a proposal letter to the 67 property owners that are directly affected to get a gage on their buy in.
    This should be the next step, not bringing in an outside firm to walk around our neighborhood, when ultimately it will be our decision, as property owners to put the kybosh on the plan.

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