Tag Archives: 35 Church Lane

Kemper Gunn House: It’s Unanimous!

Matthew Mandell — one of the leaders in the fight to move the Kemper Gunn House across the street, from 35 Church Lane to the Baldwin parking lot — sent this today to his email list, following last night’s RTM decision:

What an amazing vote last night: 34-0 to approve the move of Kemper Gunn and the 8-24, thus overturning P&Z. The smiles on the RTM members stretched across the room. They knew they did something historic and great. Generations to come will say this RTM, and those Westporters in 2013, had vision.

The public support for this project was overwhelming from the start. It was your input, your emails, your signatures and your voices which made this happen. Never underestimate the power of the people to make things happen. Now let’s take that into the voting booths as well and elect P&Z commissioners who will follow through on saving the house and for greater protection of our Town’s history and character. A bit on that below.

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

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

If you were not there or didn’t watch on the toob, Morley Boyd, who led the appeal, delivered an A+ speech to start it off. We all knew why the house and location were key right from the start. David Waldman followed and improved on what he said last week and the momentum had begun.

The four Republican/Save Westport Now P&Z Commissioners stood as one and said they will be remaining on P&Z and will be there to help guide the house to its new home. Ron Corwin spoke in defense of the decision and was making sound points before veering off course.

The public was clear and unending in their support, including all three Democrat/Save Westport Now candidates for P&Z who all said they support moving and saving the house.  In contrast, not one of the Coalition for Westport Candidates was there, this after their Chair sent a second email to the RTM questioning the move. Their absence seals their fate in my mind for being against the move and preservation. I really thought they would be there to repair their image, but nope.

The RTM members who spoke cleared up any issues about parking and preservation of the house. Even if there were parking issues, some saying there weren’t, they were outweighed by the value of saving the house and what it will bring to Elm Street.

A rendering of what the house will look like after it is moved. View is south on Elm Street, with Villa del Sol restaurant on the right.

A rendering of what the house will look like after it is moved. View is south on Elm Street, with Villa del Sol restaurant on the right.

Steve Rubin used Robert’s Rules to create quite a moment for the vote. He called the question and asked for a roll call as well, this set him up to be vote first, which I know he enjoyed. Then yes, after yea, after I, after yes with enthusiasm came until the moderator said “it is unanimous, 34-0, to overturn P&Z.”  The room erupted in applause.

The house has not moved yet, and there is much work to do to get it there. Your continued support will be needed. You know I will let you know when a push from you will be needed on Kemper Gunn or on the next thing that will come up.

Again, thank yourselves for making this happen.


This Old House: Yesterday, Tomorrow — And Today

Matthew Mandell sends along this fascinating 1914 photo of the Kemper Gunn House:

Kemper Gunn 1

Already nearly 30 years old, it sat handsomely on the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street.

On the opposite side of Elm Street we see the Methodist Church (now Seabury Center).

And just west of the church is — whoa! — another house. It’s located in what is now the Baldwin Parking Lot — almost the same spot where David Waldman has offered to move the Kemper Gunn House, when he develops the new Bedford Square project.

Here’s a rendering of how the house would look, in its new location:

Kemper Gunn 2

This view is on Elm Street, looking east. The Kemper Gunn House is on the left, across from Villa del Sol restaurant (right).

Meanwhile, this sign sits outside the Kemper Gunn House, at 35 Church Lane:

Kemper Gunn 3

It reminds everyone that the RTM will meet on Tuesday, October 22 to decide the fate of this old — and suddenly controversial — house.

RTM Rep Walks Out

I wasn’t at last Friday’s meeting about the Kemper-Gunn House, and its possible move from 35 Church Lane to the Elm Street parking lot.

Don Bergmann, an RTM member who serves on its  Planning & Zoning Committee, was. For a while.

But he walked out — protesting what he called First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s “indecisiveness” — and said he would not longer work on the project.

The other meeting participants — Joseloff, members of his staff, RTM P&Z Committee chair Matthew Mandell, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels, and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — stayed.

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

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

In a press release, Bergmann said he was “frustrated by the lack of support of the project by the First Selectman, including an unwillingness to go on record in support of, and actively work for, the success of the project.”

According to Bergmann, the house will be moved across the street to the Baldwin lot, with all costs borne by Bedford Square Associates (the firm redeveloping Church Lane). “Once moved, the house will be renovated by a developer and then made available for commercial rentals, including obligations to provide for ‘mom and pop’ occupancies and to exclude ‘chain’ stores,” Bergmann says. He adds:

The Town will lease a portion of the Baldwin parking lot for the new site and will receive payments under that lease. The Town will also benefit by the real estate taxes that will result from the change of use of the site from parking to an historic commercial usage. The Town will not take title to the Kemper-Gunn house and will have no responsibility for the renovation….

The Kemper-Gunn house will be preserved, the new site on Elm Street is part of a transitional zone that “softens” the shift from downtown commercial to residential structures and our Town will receive lease payments and additional tax revenues.

Bergmann “loves the project,” his press release says, and he hopes to continue working on it.

However, he notes,

the efforts to date to get the First Selectman to support, drive and take ‘ownership’ of the project have been unsuccessful. Hopefully, the public and others will now convince the First Selectman to take the leadership which this project demands. Without that leadership, the Kemper-Gunn house may go the way of the wrecking ball.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was asked yesterday morning to comment. He did not respond.

However, at last night’s Board of Finance meeting — where several Westporters and RTM members spoke in favor of moving the house — Joseloff was less than enthusiastic.

“There’s some concern that the town, even if we lock in all the ifs, ands and buts in the lease, there is some potential exposure to the town for taking care of this house down the line,” Joseloff said, according to the Westport News.

The Gunn House

Get ready for the next Westport battle: What to do with the Gunn House.

Named after longtime owner Ben Gunn — who for many years housed his law firm there — the Queen Anne building has sat handsomely on the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street for 120 years.

When Bedford Square Associates began planning their new development — replacing the Westport Y and adjacent buildings — many Westporters worried that the Gunn House would be demolished.

BSA offered the structure to anyone, for just $1. There were no takers.

Gunn House -- 35 Church Lane -- was built in 1893.

Gunn House — 35 Church Lane — was built in 1893.

Now the developer has offered to move it across Elm Street, to the Baldwin parking lot. BSA will spend $150,000, in relocation fees and a new foundation. The Historic District Commission has approved the plan.

Beyond that, ideas for the structure — including who would use it, and maintain it — are unclear.

This may be the next downtown “controversy.” It’s sure to generate debate — from preservationists worried about what will become of the building; merchants and shoppers concerned about losing spaces in the parking lot; anti-BSA folks certain there’s an ulterior motive somewhere, and others with points of view we had not yet heard from and/or figured out.

That’s Westport. Arguing about old buildings and new construction is what we do best.

But it’s worth noting that this marks an important milestone: A developer has heard pleas for preservation, and heeded them.

With its own money.

The last time that happened was …

An artist's rendering of proposed new construction on the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street -- the current site of the Gunn House.

An artist’s rendering of proposed new construction on the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street — the current site of the Gunn House.