The town’s chief building official last week received four letters of objection to a proposed demolition at New Canaan Library, according to emails obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
Three of the objection letters lodged with Chief Building Official Brian Platz appear to assume (incorrectly) that the entire 1913 library building will be razed under the demo plan. In fact the demo itself—as reported here—includes a preservation plan for the legacy building as approved in December by the Planning & Zoning Commission.
One of the letters, filed by New Canaan Preservation Alliance’s Mimi Findlay, objects to the “partial demolition of the 1913 library.”
“The original, historic 1913 building consists of a dominant gable-roofed front portion and a subordinate rear portion under a lower hip roof,” Findlay wrote in her letter, filed Friday. “The latter has had its back (west) wall altered for the later additions. The rear portion under the intact hip roof should be preserved and partially rebuilt to its original 1913 size and not demolished; nor should part of the front section be demolished, as vaguely described in the Library’s demolition plans.”
The library on Aug. 5 filed an application with the town to demolish its existing building, as the new one takes shape next to it. The demolition will include the gallery (90 years old), children’s portion (70 years old) and original portion (109 years old), the application said. As approved by P&Z, the library will retain an approximately 65-by-20 foot part of the 1913 structure, moving that portion to its western property line.
Under Section 12A-9 of the Town Code, if the Town Building Official “receives a pertinent written objection to the application within 15 days following publication of the [demolition] notice, then the Building Official shall promptly refer such objection to the Historical Review Committee.”
Under the Code, the Historical Review Committee “shall review and decide all pertinent objections within 15 days of receipt of the objection by the Building Official.” That appointed Committee may find that “that the structure is of historical, architectural or cultural significance” to the town, and delay demolition by up to 90 days.
Asked about the demolition application, New Canaan Library Executive Director Lisa Oldham said in an email, “The front section of the library building, including the two original front rooms as well as the portico are excluded from the demolition permit application, as reported earlier in the New Canaanite. In December 2021 the Library presented options for preservation to the New Canaan Planning & Zoning Commission. The P&Z preferred an option of creating a freestanding building and directed the Library to preserve the ~1200 square foot Main Street facing building. The Library has subsequently developed plans to preserve this building as presented (image). The New Library building is on track and will be open to the community in early 2023. The library invites financial contributions from the community to fund the completion of the preservation work.”
Opponents of the library’s rebuilding project began voicing objections about plans to install a green where the original building sits in public hearings held after the library’s application came into the town in February 2021. The preservationists argued in favor of keeping the 1913 portion of the building in place, along with 1930s-era additions, while enclosing other parts of those structures with outer walls long since demolished.
P&Z approved the library’s overall project in July 2021, while calling for the library to return at a later date with fleshed-out preservation options. In August 2021, the NCPA joined a gas station in suing P&Z over the approval. One month later, petitioners sought to challenge the Town Council’s decision to bond $10 million toward the library project, yet they were unable to get the signatures needed to force a referendum vote. In January, after P&Z approved the library’s plan to preserve much of what remains of the original 1913 building by moving it, the NCPA sued again.
It isn’t clear how informed residents are about the library’s preservation plans.
One of last week’s objection letter-writers, New Canaan resident Kevin Taylor, said in his letter to Platz that the 1913 library building “is truly a gem and adds great architectural character to the downtown of New Canaan.”
“To hear that the new library plans can somehow not accommodate this structure is beyond my understanding,” Taylor continued. “It reminds me of the fate of Pennsylvania Station in New York City which was completed about the same time as the original library building— in 1910. Certainly, the demolition of that building is now recognized as a monumental travesty. It was the result of a few short-minded people choosing commercial interests over historic preservation. We all know that most New Yorkers rue the day when that grand structure was felled by the wrecking ball.I implore our town government to “do the right thing” and save this building from demolition for the future enjoyment all New Canaanites and for generations to come. PLEASE SAVE THE 1913 LIBRARY!” [His caps.]
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