Geiger Demolition: The Sequel

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.

The Geiger barn. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Geiger barn…(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

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.

... and Garden Center.

… and Garden Center.

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.

11 responses to “Geiger Demolition: The Sequel

  1. Ann Marie Flynn

    Wendy…thank you for such a wonderful run-down. Much research must have gone into it.
    Hopefully, a heads-up message might reach more citizens before the Dec. meeting. It would be wonderful to have a “citizen army” at it so their views could be known.

  2. Sandy Soennichsen

    Here we go again. Some parties wanting to save some old place from new development. I guess that will never end. Why do people want to do so much of that? What are we really gaining? But what really upsets me is the idea of the HDC (whoever they are, and I’m still not convinced that they are really qualified to unobjectively decide on what is historic or should be historic; and who is on that committee, what are their qualifications?) suggesting to Mr Barr that “obtaining the variances might be easier if there is public and HDC support for the project.” What does that mean? If Mr Barr’s clients agree to do something out if the ordinary or somehow appease the HDC members that the variances would be granted; or if they just request the variance and ask for a fair evaluation that the variances might not be granted? Sounds vaguely familiar to that if the right palms are greased that the variances will be given. Another Gorham Island all over again? I can’t believe what I’m reading and what was written here.

    • The arguments in favor of “preservation” are not supported by facts or logic. The near hysterical reaction each time one of these old structures is threatened with demolition is political theater of the absurd. It is fun to watch; sort of like a man who thinks he is a rhinoceros.

  3. Well done Dan !

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Matthew Mandell

    Yes Sandy here we go again. Why? Because integrating our history into our future, or protecting it outright makes us a better and more spiritually fulfilled community. Westport has long been a progressive place where we look to lead and be different. Saving the 130+ yo barn, built with beams that, it is said, come from Chestnut trees from “Winslow Park” is a worthy endeavor.

    I was at the HDC hearing, it was not only the HDC seeking the preservation of the barn, there were members of the public. And that’s why we have public hearings to hear and tell. And that leads to the variance issue. The developer is seeking something. And will be asking for it in a public hearing. Why not do some horse trading? Westport is desirable and the town should always feel it has the upper hand, not the other way around.

    Two examples of preservation have already occurred this year, Terrain and Kemper Gunn. Why shouldn’t it become the norm to have developers adaptively reuse historic structures into their new projects? Why shouldn’t a piece of open space we set aside if this was a different issue? No one is saying we can’t move forward, no one is saying no development. Just offer the town something in return to enhance our environment.

    • Werner Liepolt

      The November 4th entry reads:
      … I’m not a fan of the Geiger house that fronts the Post Road — but I am a big fan of the old barn in the rear. Inside that barn are supporting beams/joists that still have bark on them. I was told by an old-time Westporter that these joists were made of HEMLOCK trees that came from what is now Winslow Park…

      I added the caps… Chestnut beams would be much rarer than Hemlock.

  5. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    “Here we go again” always makes me laugh (sadly). Honestly, the barn looks like it would topple tomorrow by a simple sneeze.
    I hope the next meeting is packed, packed with questions (politely, of course), and answers to this ongoing problem.

  6. Matthew Mandell

    Nancy – Just curious, is the “ongoing problem” that historic buildings are not given the opportunity to be saved, or that people want to save them and adaptively reuse them as part of new projects?

    Werner – I has told Chestnut was used mostly for barns back then. Very hard wood. Guess we’ll have to find out which type. Chestnut trees are gone from the area now.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Save as much as people want to save, i.e. a beautiful beam left more or less unscathed by a fire that can be sculptured into new framework, etc. Figure out what is “historic”, and what is not. Figure out the cost of renovating vs. rebuilding. Leave a footprint whenever possible.
      Yes, all towns, villages, cities, hamlets have this ongoing problem.
      Just figure out what is realistic and what is not. It seems Westport’s budget (municipal and private) is large enough to handle this ongoing problem without bickering. Perfection, though, is unrealistic.

  7. Thanks for the update, Wendy – and thank you HDC for all your generous volunteer work. I have every confidence that the folks at Coastal will be willing to consider alternatives to demolition as they have been operating in this community for some time. As it happens, Westport has a long history of repurposing structures and we were doing it well before today’s environmental movement got underway; for example, every house on my street in downtown Westport used to be a barn or workbuilding until the late 20’s – now they live on as cherished homes for families that value that tangible link to our past. Every now and then that connection reveals itself in unexpected ways; our neighbors, while residing a portion of their house (nee horse barn) were blown away when they uncovered a huge, hand painted sign that read “Hay For Sale”. Great stuff.

  8. Sandy, everytime a preservation minded activity occurs … it means that Westport actually has some older architectural resources worth saving…unlike so many other areas of the Tri state. I know of some great towns elsewhere that have nothing left tear down. Of course, then you might not have anything to complain about.