Historic Church Lane is nearing its new look.
Earlier today, a notice was posted in the Baldwin parking lot. It announces a hearing next Wednesday (August 13, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall Room 309) regarding a .13-acre lease in the lot. The board of selectmen will be asked to approve a lease, to accommodate the relocation of the Kemper-Gunn House from across Elm Street.
That vacated property will then become part of the retail/residential development that replaces the soon-to-be-vacated Westport Family Y.
The Baldwin parking lot lease, which has already been approved by the Board of Finance and Planning & Zoning Commission, awaits final Board of Selectmen action.
According to 3rd Selectman Helen Garten — a member of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group — “the lease creates a unique public-private partnership that not only will ensure the preservation of a historic downtown structure, but also will return the building to productive commercial use as a home for small, independent businesses.”
Major components of the plan include rental of the Baldwin lot land by the town to DC Kemper-Gunn LLC for 50 years, with renewal options up to 98 years.
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC will own the house and pay for all site work, relocation expenses, renovation and ongoing maintenance and repairs. The town will incur no operating expenses.
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC has agreed to preserve any original exterior features of the house that are in good condition, or replace them with original materials. Garten hopes that some interior architectural features can be reused or donated to the Westport Historical Society.
The plan calls for refitting the interior for commercial use. The lease requires all tenants to be small, independent, preferably locally owned businesses — no chain stores. Garten says, “Our aim is to add to the diversity and vibrancy of our downtown business offerings.”
The town will receive taxes on the building and improvements, as well as rent and — eventually — a share of net profits generated by the commercial rental operation.
“Since we are receiving no income now, this is a net gain to the town financially,” Garten notes. “But the real reward for Westport is how this venture will help restore a sense of place to our downtown.”
The actual relocation is tentatively set for November. A giant Elm Street block party may accompany the move.