Under The Gunn

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.

35 Church Lane -- also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.

35 Church Lane — also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.

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.

33 responses to “Under The Gunn

  1. Sandy Soennichsen

    Cute house, many like that still in Norwalk, but why is it significant to anyone? Who was Keller-Gunn? Was the family instrumental in developing Westport? And why should the town pay for its upkeep after any move? Sure, move it into the parking lot on stilts high enough so that the parking spaces that it would be over can still be used; that would be an interesting sight. If you convert it to a town office you just need to change the wiring, the plumbing, the entrance ways……ooops, I forgot, the house isn’t supposed to cost the town ANY MONEY AT ALL. For perpetuity?

    Hey, if the developers don’t want it, and the town doesn’t want it, give it to one of those whiners who want to save the house but tell them they have to pay for moving it. Then they can do whatever they want with it.

    It’s old, it’s in the way, no one jumped up and wanted it, GET RID OF IT!

  2. Matthew Mandell

    Thanks Dan for bringing this to the residents’ attention. For more information and an email address to contact your RTM go to
    http://www.savewestport.com/kempergunn.html

  3. Chip Stephens

    As you may know, I was one of two lone votes on the P and Z, the other Jack Whittle, to protect and save the Gunn house. Jack and I ran on a platform 2 years ago to “Preserve Westport” and this was a no brainier to us.
    Facts are:
    – Both candidates for First Selectman and the current selectman testified at the P and Z meeting they are in favor of preserving the house and moving it.
    – The only negative comments that night came from a downtown businessman who argued that with hundreds of local merchants and employees parking in Baldwin and Parker-Harding, downtown we could not afford to lose 17 spaces, Really ? Should the merchants be parking so close, how about using the Imperial lot?
    – The opponents on the P and Z then proposed that the Gunn house needs a big lawn to be relevant so why not move it to the town green at the historical society. Beside the fact that this is not the proposed and funded deal offered to the town, it seems there are those in town that do not treasure open space wanting to occupy the town green, and develop other open space in town. Kind of like Robert Moses in NY in the 60s wanting to put highways thru central park and other parks. All in the name of “planning”. And about that lawn, check out San Francisco or closer to home New Canaan and see beautiful older houses on their main streets.
    – One P and Z member argued the loss of parking would kill the 2020 planning and greening of Parker Harding, BUT in a well timed IM from Lou Gagliano and read by Matt Mandell , 2020 fully support the Gunn House preservation and it would not deter from the 2020 planning.
    – Finally, at the meeting , there were those voices that stated the Gunn house is not an ideal Federalist or Victorian example of architecture, that it does not deserve to be saved. Thank God for Arthur Tauck for saving National Hall when we were told it was trash falling into the Saugatuck, and those with vision that saved Bedford Elementary to create our beautiful town hall. Not perfect buildings but historic and treasured Westport landmarks
    Add to the opponent list that some do not believe the town should be landlords, owning the Gunn house and leasing it out for income to preserve it in the future. Has not that kind of deal brought us Longshore and Winslow Park , not bad properties to be owners of and enjoy as citizens of 06880.
    I hope enough people care to join the RTM meetings to save the Gunn house, if you go, I will see you there.
    Chip Stephens, resident of 06880 since 1960 and grateful elected member of Westport P and Z

  4. Matthew Mandell

    Sandy – didn’t see your post. 1. No expense to the town, actually the town will make money from lease and taxes. Developer will put $1.5 Million to restore the house. 2. Significance comes from location and time in downtown and its contrast to what’s new. Washington does not have to sleep in an house to make it historically significant. If you want more information please let me know. My RTM email is matthew@westportd1.com

  5. If Westporter’s look at the latest town plan…then clearly…the Gunn House is a homerun, and exceeds any expectations toward fulfilling the most recent mandate. Addressing Sandy’s concerns and confirming Matt Mandell’s statement…the developer, David Waldman, has stepped to the plate and delivered! This is a win win for Westport and a reflection on what a misguided decision certain members of the RTM made. The RTM must reverse this travesty of a decision. The public will be present for this RTM special hearing and will voice their opinions loud and proud!

  6. Please excuse my error… I meant certain P&Z members referring to the misguided decision.

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    How can I get an updated Town of Westport map?

    • nancy wilson

      Whomever Nancy Hunter Wilson is, could you please change the name you use on this site. My name is Nancy Wilson and my son is Hunter and I am getting emails because people think I am you commenting on 06880. Thanks so much.

      • Nancy Hunter Wilson

        I shall exit immediately. Thanks , Dan.

        • Nancy Hunter Wilson

          Correction: Thanks Dan.

          • No reason to “exit immediately.” It’s your name too!

            • Also, Nancy Hunter Wilson is a Staples alum, ’76–the younger sister of Tim, ’71’, and Paul Hunter, ’73. That is indeed her real name.

            • Nancy Hunter Wilson

              I’m still confused by the above message from nancy wilson.
              Shall I become NHWilson? (and less cheeky?) I thought full names are required.
              P.S. Thanks, Fred for the validation (I hoped to be pseudo anonymous!)

              • Don’t worry about the other Nancy Wilson. Keep posting under your full name, please. You are not responsible for the confusion of her friends.

  8. Sandy should form a coalition. Oh, wait. Never mind.

  9. Sandy Soennichsen

    Chip…I’ve beenliving here a bit longer than you, and I just want to address about three of your comments. Number one, Westport DOES NOT have any beautiful older houses ON Main Street, a couple further off that main road, but NONE ON IT. Two, leasing it out? Wow….what or who is going to go into that house? Probably another law firm or insurance agency? No, how about a nail salon, or a temporary Halloween costume shop. I don’t bring out of town relatives or friends to Longshore anymore, cause I’m embarrassed about what the Inn looks like and the shape of that building, and Splash. And losing 17 spaces……..why don’t you go out there and talk to the ladies of Westport around the holidays or busy weekends when they can’t find parking spaces with cycling distance of downtown. Tell them they lost those spaces because it was more important to save a house that is not a good example of the architecture of that time nor did anyone of any real significance own, never mind the fact that George Washington never slept there, maybe Benedict Arnold spent more time there. Oh no, I forgot, the house wasn’t even around in those days, was it. Lets see, the person that owns it doesn’t want it and it’s worth 1.5 million of his money to get rid of it and “donate” it to Westport. Now if it was in the shape of a Trojan Horse, that would be interesting.

    • David A. Waldman

      Sandy,

      I was not planning on chiming in but clearly you do not have any understanding or what me and my partners are trying to accomplish by moving the GUNN house. First, there still remains many beautiful structures on Main Street. To name a few, off the top of my head, you have The old Library, The Bedford Mansion, the building occupied by VINCE, the building occupied by Jack Wills, the old Remarkable Book Store, the Tavern on Main Building, and lastly the building occupied by Blue Mercury. Second, leasing the repositioned GUNN house, which, if approved, would sit on a beautiful green lawn with the porch opened to the road, will not be hard at all. It will be more affordable then Main Street (something as the winners of the RFP we agreed we would do) and could be used by a local fashion retailer, restaurant, medical office, residential dwelling, art gallery or a myriad of other uses. Third, as a member of the WDMA and downtown property owner, I have spoken to the people (men, women and children) who shop our town and NONE of them would care about the 20 spaces which could be lost if the GUNN house is moved. The gain far exceeds the loss. Both selectmen candidates are in favor of the move, as is the majority of the town and this will be shown when the RTM overturns the P&Z’s negative report. When Bedford Square is completed, there will be over 60 excess parking spaces added to the downtown so the loss of 20 will not be felt for long. Not to mention that when the Y was at its peak and had over 8,000 members, they consumed a substantial amount of public parking (since they have ZERO on site) and so when they leave, additional parking will be freed up. Lastly, the $1.5MM you mention above is to renovate the house and make it a jewel, like we did to the Spotted Horse, The Westport Bank and Trust, Urban Outfitters, the old Wild Pear (soon to be Java and under construction) and eventually the old YMCA. The developers of Bedford Square, of which I am associated, donated the cost to move the GUNN house to the proposed site and place it on a foundation. The location would not hinder a future parking structure nor would it require it to be built. That will cost around $150,000. The RFP, which my group won, has clear advantages to the town in form of revenue and character. For someone who has been her so long, I would think you would understand how this will work. I have been living in Westport since 1970 so I think I know a little about it’s history and clearly have a vested interest in its long term success. Please get your facts correct so if you choose to comment, it is based on a real knowledge of what is trying to be done.

      • David, let me be the first to thank you for weighing in here; you are very much an integral part of this effort. I hope everyone (even those few residents who are not in favor of saving / moving the Gunn house) attends the RTM meetings on Oct. 16 and 22. Public input is always important, and I have confidence that the process we have in place in Town will give rise to the correct result for the residents of Westport.

      • Well, it’s already sitting on a green lawn open to the street. My problem is with the use of town-owned municipal land. This sets a bad precedent. The house should be moved to a private lot. For decades the town of Westport gave tax incentives to those willing to have their homes be destroyed so that the Baldwin lot could be bigger.

        Maybe the Baldwin lot could be developed further, a bigger development than just one old house, and generate more revenue for the town. It will look weird. If we are going to have retail on the Baldwin lot this house is not the best option, by far. More like a short term solution to a public relations problem.

        If we are going to have retail on the Baldwin lot off Elm why shouldn’t the town build something on the order that you are building where the Gunn house sits now. To follow the logic there are really two distinctly different issues:
        1. Save the Gunn house
        2. Build retail at the Baldwin lot

        Again, if you want to move the house off your property to build a more efficient retail rental property, why shouldn’t the town want to do the same with their property? ie put a more effecient retail building on Elm open to the street. Well we cant if your old building has just been moved there.

        Sure the public always want to save an old classic Victorian house but it has been put the public, by your proposal, as the only way to save it, which it is not. That is why it won’t be overturned by the RTM.

        Just my thoughts–tt

  10. Kevin Martin

    Wow, Sandy, who killed your puppy.? I’m all for getting rid of the structure where there is not any feasible/economic alternative. And frankly, it doesn’t seem like there is; but what’s with the tone? I trust Mr. Mandell’s judgement, which I expect to be honest, but end up regretful about the house’s decline.

  11. This sounds like a win-win but I was just curious about some more specifics.

    Where exactly in the lot will the building be placed (to ensure that it will be appealing to some entity that will be looking to attract some foot traffic)?

    And do the 17 parking spaces account for simply the physical space the building will occupy or is there any possibility that there will be additional spaces that will have to be set aside for the prospective tenants in order to attract those tenants? Or are the tenant set-aside spots included in the 17 lost parking spaces?

    Also, Matthew, what kinds of taxes/amounts of taxes do you feel this will realistically generate? Thanks.

  12. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    “Guide to Academic Protocol” (1969), by Mary Kemper Gunn.
    Sounds like a good read. Now I need both a history and street map of Westport. Both in paper form, something I can wrap my head around.

  13. Matthew Mandell

    Fred – The 17 spots are physical. The use, is already in the area as the house already is there. Also BSA is building 42 spots over zoning requirements, so there will actually be more physical spots. It will be beautiful after $1.5 million is put into restoration. This goes to Kevin’s decline question, no decline with such an investment in infrastructure. It will be situated along the street specifically to invite foot traffic. Which will come from both the parking lot and the BSA project across the street.

    Sandy – the deal creates an incubator for small local businesses to take up retail there. This fosters diversity and a reason to walk the area, instead of a parking lot. Which again goes back to Fred’s question.

    This location was not an after thought, but a conscious decision to retain the local historic imprint and character and to adaptively reuse the house to foster new business and bring in revenue for the town.

    Again for more info and how to contact your RTM reps go to
    http://www.savewestport.com/kempergunn.html

  14. Perhaps those opposed to saving the Gunn house are speaking for the new political party in Westport that appears solely dedicated to building a parking garage downtown.

    • John McCarthy

      Armann,
      Funny you should mention that. RTM members received the following email this past weekend from Michael Nayor. Note that Howard Lathrop, one of the P&Z members who voted against the 8-24 application, is reportedly the Treasurer for the Coalition for Westport. Please draw your own conclusions……

      Ladies and Gentlemen of the RTM:
      I am Chairman of the Coalition for Westport and wish to comment on the deliberation you will soon have about moving the Gunn property to the Baldwin parking lot.
      As you know this issue was recently considered by the P&Z which rejected the proposal. The Coalition is a third-party designated organization. Its candidates for P&Z are very much in favor of saving the Gunn house. The Coalition itself acknowledges the importance of Westport’s history and the role it plays in modern times. The Gunn house is important. It deserves to be saved. It also deserves better treatment than to be transferred to a parking lot. Many people, in the rush to do the right thing, have embraced an idea that ultimately does a disservice to this historic property.

      The Gunn house deserves a setting befitting its status. That does not mean grabbing at the first proposal that is offered out of fear. An ad hoc committee should be established to quickly consider and choose other potential locations so that the Gunn house does not wind up ignored, languishing in obscurity in a parking lot. People with the best of intentions sometimes make the wrong decisions. You are urged not to be hasty. Please do the right thing that turns out to also be the right decision.

      Thank you for your consideration.

  15. Thanks to David Waldman and his partners for all their hard work and dedication. Hopefully, your explanation better informed Sandy and others like him who feel differently about the fate of the Gunn House.

  16. P.S. Also…David Waldman and his partners have put their money where their mouth’s are! Very accommodating and an extremely beneficial on their part, with local small mom and pop use in mind, rental income for The town that did not exist….and BSA relocates at their expense. Overall, the town will gain parking downtown…this is a fact… People need to examine the pro’s and con’s of this decision….overwhelmingly…the public support’s this… Overwhelming support is evident from town commission’s… and politicians running for election…on both sides of the fence! Something that we are lucky to all be in agreement with from a bipartisan perspective.

  17. SAndy Soennichsen

    David W….
    I’m not arguing any facts in my comments. Maybe one, the fact that there are very few wonderfully architecturally appealing buildings on Main Street. I was thinkiing residential homes, not offices or restaurants, because someone earlier mentioned the beautiful homes in New Canaan. However, I made comments due to my not agreeing that moving that house is beneficial to Westport. It’s pretty obvious, for a number of reasons, that the small mom-and-pop businesses cannot make it in Westport; they can’t afford the high rents on Main Streeet that the town’s benevolent landlords charge, insurance issues, health costs, etc. So why would the “house” be beneficial? If it’s such a boon to a prospective retailer, or some business, then the town should charge the same rental fees as the mainstay businesses in the vicinity. Right? I’ve also noticed that there are quite a few rentals available in town, and I don’t see a lot of prospective renters standing in line to sign up.
    And an aside here, there is going to be a new regime of politicians in our town ranks. Now if this “house” thing doesn’t work out, are the townies going to start blaming them for any shortcomings to this ideal dream that is being proposed? Maybe the whole thing should be postponed until they are all in and see what’s going on?
    And does anyone know yet who this Keller-Gunn person was? And was it really their house or the name stuck because they were the last owners?

  18. Sandy Soennichsen

    Sorry…I’m bad. Above should have read Kemper-Gunn. Wanted to correct that before I was accused again of not getting my facts straight.

  19. MaryAnn Meyer

    Now that paradise is being paved…Next discussion for P&Z.. a tree museum!

  20. Townies? Please describe townies? From where to where so I get my bearing straight?

  21. I think ?..well…I think I just might be a Townie. Damn proud to be a Townie then! Thanks Sandy!