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Regulation 32-18 Says: Don’t Demolish. Renovate!

It’s not easy to save historic structures in Westport.

Economics, legal restrictions, changing tastes — all make it much simpler to tear down old buildings, rather than save them.

The town desperately needs a regulation that encourages homeowners and builders to preserve, rehabilitate, restore, reconstruct and/or adapt historic proprties.

Well, shiver me timbers! There is one!

Zoning Regulation 32-18 covers “Historic Residential Structures.” Actually, it does far more. It encourages their preservation.

But you’d have to be someone — an architect, say — well versed in Westport’s zoning code to know it.

In the spring of 2020 Simon and Robbyn Hallgarten — who had already renovated (and substantially saved) a historic home near Longshore — bought property on North Avenue.

Simon and Robbyn Hallgarten’s main house, on North Avenue.

The land — between Staples High School and Cross Highway — included a Victorian home and carriage house. Both were built around 1886.

Several “experts” told Simon that if he wanted to do renovate the carriage house, it had to be moved to conform to property setbacks. Otherwise he’d have to leave it as is, or tear it down.

Fortunately, Simon kept asking. Finally he found an architect who said: “Look at Section 32-18.” (You can, too. Click here.) 

Simon and Robbyn saved the 130-year-old structure.

Under normal zoning — because the carriage house sits within the property’s setback — any modifications or change of use would not be permitted.

Under 32-18 though, the Hallgartens provided the town with a perpetual maintenance easement over the structure. In return, they converted the historic timber-framed building into a garage gym, spare bedroom, en suite bath and great 2nd floor office/den space.

The renovated carriage house.

Simon wonders “how many other historic buildings could be maintained if only owners and architects were aware that they could be significantly renovated, and even go through a change of use – subject only to an agreement to maintain the structure going forward.”

Well — in a slightly different form — here’s another 32-18 success story. Last April, I wrote about a 2-story, 1,230-square foot 1892 farmhouse on Turkey Hill South.

Rahul Ghai and his wife Priyanka Singh used the regulation — obtained by the prior owners — to restore the 127-year-old structure, and also build a large house nearby.

The project won a Connecticut Preservation Award — one of only 10 in the state.

The story said that 32-18 had already prevented 22 other historic structures from being demolished.

Of course, 22 (now 23) successful preservation projects is a drop in the bucket, compared to the number of houses being demolished annually.

So whether you’re a developer, architect, homeowner — or someone who lives near a historic structure — remember those numbers: 32-18.

When you hear of a successful renovation using that regulation, let me know.

Maybe one day there will be so many, it will no longer be news.

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