Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of it.
But the Planning & Zoning Commission wasn’t.
They voted to deny a plan to move the Kemper Gunn House — the handsome, century-old building on Church Lane — across Elm Street to the Baldwin Parking Lot.
Nearly 100 residents — far more than the 20 needed — have appealed the decision to the RTM. That body holds a committee meeting on October 16. The full body will consider the appeal on October 22.
Architect Francis Henkels lays out the issue well. In a letter to the RTM, he notes that nearly a year ago, Bedford Square Associates — the developers of the new Church Lane project — offered the Kemper Gunn house to anyone interested in moving and preserving it.
There were no takers.
BSA offered to donate the house to the town, pay for its relocation to the parking lot, and construct a new foundation there. The town requested proposals from 2 private developers willing to renovate the house at their expense, and lease the land from the town. One was accepted.
The offer “requires minimal or no expense to the town and a future source of revenue, while insuring the future of the house,” Henkels says.
BSA developed a plan, indicating how the house could be sited to minimize the number of parking spaces lost. The plan also shows how the house can be integrated into a parking garage, as has been discussed for the future.
BSA has a construction schedule. The Historic District Commission (which Henkels chairs, though he wrote to the RTM as a private citizen) granted a 180-day delay to BSA’s demolition request. The purpose of the delay is “to give all interested parties time to investigate ways to preserve an important structure.”
Advocates for saving the house have worked hard to find a solution. But time is running out. Soon, BSA will have the right to demolish the Kemper Gunn House.
Henkels says that moving it to the Elm Street parking lot is the only feasible solution.
I agree with Henkels — and many other Westporters. This choice seems like a no-brainer. Saving one historic house is far more important than saving a few parking spots.