Alert “06880” reader Wendy Crowther writes:
Last Tuesday (November 12), the Historic District Commission voted unanimously to uphold the 180-day demolition delays placed on both the house and vintage barn at the Geiger Garden Center, plus the small green house next to Westport Wash & Wax (formerly home to “Once a Pickle”).
It was revealed at the meeting that Coastal Construction Group is planning to purchase both sites for redevelopment. What’s interesting is that Coastal’s usual gig is building luxury homes. With these pending purchases, they are apparently considering branching out into commercial/mixed-use development.
Coastal was represented at the HDC meeting by Mel Barr, whose consulting firm specializes in land use planning, development and regulatory process management. Mr. Barr will be able to report back to Coastal that tearing down the historic buildings on these sites might stir up a pot of controversy.
However, it was HDC’s position that by conserving these historic structures and incorporating them into Coastal’s new projects, benefits can be gained that would otherwise be lost if the buildings are destroyed. The HDC suggested that Mr. Barr and Coastal take a good look at what other developers have done recently to incorporate older structures into their new development projects (for example, Terrain and the Kemper Gunn House).
One of the complexities of re-developing the Geiger site will be the zoning variances required. These will be needed whether the historic barn is destroyed or not. The HDC reminded Mr. Barr that obtaining the variances might be easier if there is public and HDC support for the project. That support could be gained if the barn is saved. There are also special zoning benefits that come along with properties on which historic structures reside. These benefits would also be worth considering.
The Geiger barn, which is over 100 years old, is listed on the Historic Barns of CT Survey. It is the last barn still standing on Westport’s Post Road. HDC chairman Randy Henkels offered to tour the barn with Mr. Barr and Coastal to help better determine its age, its key historic elements, and identify which additions made to the barn over time could be eliminated to restore it to its original form.
Mr. Barr and Coastal were invited to return to the HDC’s next meeting in December to explore options for conserving the structures.
Barr and Coastal are both Westport-based businesses. I hope that their Westport roots might help them appreciate that historic preservation and new development can be combined to make great projects.
Will they show up at HDC’s table next month? We’ll see. In the meantime, the demolition clock is ticking.