Saying the structure is architecturally significant, members of a town committee last week imposed a 90-day delay on the planned demolition of a 1933-built fieldstone-clad house on Colonial Court.
The Historical Review Committee voted 4-0 to impose the delay on 9 Colonial Court, a two-story, three-bedroom house at the end of the cul-de-sac, which runs west off of South Avenue near the downtown.
Under the Town Code, if the town building official receives a written objection to demolition within 15 days of public notice, the matter is referred to the appointed Committee to determine whether the structure is “of an age, style, condition or character that is of historical, architectural or cultural significance to the Town of New Canaan”—and if it is, a delay of up to 90 days can be imposed on demolition.
Committee member Marty Skrelunas said the house in question here meets the criteria and is “worthy of conversation before any dramatic change takes place.”
“The street itself, as pointed out by the neighbors, is truly one of the last intact streets in New Canaan,” he said. “And it was certainly designed and built around a certain design criteria. That’s readily apparent. And while I also understand that the house can be replaced, that’s perfectly legitimate if that does happen, I would urge that if there is a delay, time is spent to understand the scale, the setback and other qualities that that anchor of a house has, to respect the scale and dignity of the neighborhood.”
Skrelunas added that “there are certain design solutions that can make the house much larger, that can meet the needs of the current owner, but I do think those design needs can also address the scale and character of the neighborhood.”
“It does maintain a good, uniform setback along the street, and building height, and the trend of new houses of coursed is to raise every floor by a foot or two,” he said. “And that would be one of the largest concerns I would have in seeing any house on this street replaced, is changing the height, especially. I would hope the during this delay, time could be spent with the owners and their designers to really study these aspects in a rigorous way.”
Along with Skrelunas, Committee Chair Mark Markiewicz, Secretary Rose Rothbart and member Andrew Melillo voted in favor of the delay. Committee member Ed Vollmer was absent.
The meeting was held via videoconference and followed a walk-through of the property and house from Michelle Cardone, whose mother had purchased it two years ago.
Cardone explained that her mother requires single-floor living, and has spent significant funds consulting with architects on the prospect of creating the required space inside the existing house—had, in fact, done so prior to purchasing it.
“Initially, we wanted to renovate and expand the house, which was exactly our intention, and we met with builders before the house was purchased who seemed like, given our budget and our requirements, everything would be doable, and then after we got into it with them, I think it was two builders basically said, you should knock down the house, this is going to be way too expensive to do based on your budget,” Cardone said.
“At which point, we have now spent two years going to other architects, one of whom actually worked on a house on Colonial Court, and unfortunately after a process of a year and a half or so, have come to the conclusion that the expansion of the house would be … more time and a lot more money to achieve what we need to achieve,” she continued.
Cardone added, “We already have been through a pretty long process—and a costly one, frankly—to try and maintain the house. It’s not for lack of desire, certainly. But this is where we have sort of netted out.”
A handful of neighbors who had signed one of the formal objection letters that came into Chief Building Official and Director of Land Use Brian Platz, triggering the public hearing, also spoke out at the meeting.
In a Nov. 11 email to Platz, the owners of six other Colonial Court houses—Susan Bergeron (number 3), Catherine and Dominick Gredoni (5), Heidi and Justin King (6), Connie and Tim Brown (7), Amy and Richard Corn (8) and Leslie and Richard Mayock (10)—said “[t]he stone cottage with a pitched slate upper roof, copper lower roof and copper gutters serves as an anchor point for our small street of ten homes.”
“These elements combined with New Canaan architect Walter Kirby resulted in a uniqueness with few peer designs in our village/town,” their letter said. “He is known for other unique architectural designs in New Canaan. Although some of the older public buildings in New Canaan were constructed this way, it is very rare to find a home like this one, which sets the tone and is the anchor for our street. The distinct features of this home are not common these days which makes it even more desirable and special. The charming home, with its very old and beautiful trees (some 200 years old), was factor in our decisions to make Colonial Court our home.”
The letter closes, “We believe this [demolition] application is deserving of scrutiny for all the benefits it provides to the immediate neighborhood and the town in preserving the aesthetic nature and what we believe, historic value to the community.”
The houses owned by the objecting neighbors were built between 1880 and 1934, tax records show.
Amy Corn said during the meeting that she and her husband have lived on Colonial Court for 34 years and “we have always loved the street.”
“A key part of the charm of the circle, especially where we live is at this endow the street is that stone house,” she said. “We have always loved it. We have a clear view of it from our home. It’s been one of the chief attractive points of our street, as far as we’re concerned. And we’ve loved it. It’s a lovely neighborhood. All the neighbors have always been very welcoming. We had heard that the previous owner … sold it to a woman that wanted to add something to the back of the house. And then later we started to hear rumors that the owner wanted to rip it down and we were very surprised and very upset, really, because I can’t imagine that house going down. It is a beautiful old home and it has charm that you rarely see and it really is the anchor of our street. So we welcome our new neighbors and we want them to have a home that works for them, but we were surprised that they would buy the house and then tear it down. And we just wanted a chance to see if there’s anything that can be done to preserve it, because it’s important to us, as are some of the trees on the property, which we also enjoy seeing from our house.”
Next-door neighbor Tim Brown said at the meeting that he hoped the Cardones are willing to work with architects who can find a solution that includes preservation.
“We cannot prohibit them from tearing their house down,” he said. “It’s their house. They bought it. They can do what they want. It’s unfortunate, because they bought it for reasons and they said they had builders come in there initially and said everything is going to be fine, because the daughters want it for the dollhouse appeal and all this other stuff, and me, self-serving, it towers over my house. So it’s going to tower over my back yard. Two-hundred-year-old trees being taken down, probably a 75-year-old maple being taken down right there and so, I’m the most-affected by it from the side standpoint.”
Razing the house would “change the whole complexion of the neighborhood,” Brown added.
“Again, they can do what they want to do. But have they exhausted every opportunity with the appropriate parties to see what can be done? And so I just think it deserves some scrutiny. We don’t know these folks. They have not communicated one thing to the neighborhood about what their plans are, which is unfortunate, other than me, they say they’re going to be good neighbors. And I’m sure they’re going to be fine neighbors. I don’t know them, other than my conversation. But there’s been zero communication to the 10 houses on the street as far as of what their intentions are, and that is unfortunate. And that sort of leaves a little wound in everybody’s mind, because we’ve all talked about it.”
Skrelunas and other committee members said they believed a solution that includes preservation was possible, that the 90-day delay typically is shorter because such solutions can be found, and that they understood the needs of seniors and of family member with whom they reside.
Cardone said her mother was unable to attend the meeting, adding, “At the end of the day, she feels like she already has done her due diligence. And while I am certainly happy to be involved in having phone calls or conversations with architects that you feel are better people perhaps than the ones we spoke to, I can relay that she is not willing to make a great financial commitment on doing sort of additional drawings, but certainly is willing to have some communications.”
Others who lodged letters of objection to the planned demolition included New Canaan residents Patricia Funt Oxman and Mimi Findlay.
In a Nov. 4 letter to Platz, Funt Oxman said the house features “the kind of detail and great care that is not even feasible to make these days.”
“It would cost more than anyone would spend today, even if they could recreate it,” Funt Oxman said. “Our town is known for its architecture and the many great local architects that have created them over the years. The house on 9 Colonial Court is an example of the kind of important and special buildings that attract people to our town to live and visit.”
In a Nov. 2 objection letter, Findlay noted that Kirby designed the fire station and a handful of 1930s-built residences in town (including her own). Regarding the house at 9 Colonial Court, Findlay said the architect “appears also to have been involved in the landscape of this small to having selected, I assume, the red Japanese maple to be planted near the outdoor living space, as the same tree was also planted near my porch.”