Tag Archives: Randy Henkels

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.

Under The Gunn

Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of it.

But the Planning & Zoning Commission wasn’t.

They voted to deny a plan to move the Kemper Gunn House — the handsome, century-old building on Church Lane — across Elm Street to the Baldwin Parking Lot.

Nearly 100 residents — far more than the 20 needed — have appealed the decision to the RTM. That body holds a committee meeting on October 16. The full body will consider the appeal on October 22.

Architect Francis Henkels lays out the issue well. In a letter to the RTM, he notes that nearly a year ago, Bedford Square Associates — the developers of the new Church Lane project — offered the Kemper Gunn house to anyone interested in moving and preserving it.

There were no takers.

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

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

BSA offered to donate the house to the town, pay for its relocation to the parking lot, and construct a new foundation there. The town requested proposals from 2 private developers willing to renovate the house at their expense, and lease the land from the town. One was accepted.

The offer “requires minimal or no expense to the town and a future source of revenue, while insuring the future of the house,” Henkels says.

BSA developed a plan, indicating how the house could be sited to minimize the number of parking spaces lost. The plan also shows how the house can be integrated into a parking garage, as has been discussed for the future.

BSA has a construction schedule. The Historic District Commission (which Henkels chairs, though he wrote to the RTM as a private citizen) granted a 180-day delay to BSA’s demolition request. The purpose of the delay is “to give all interested parties time to investigate ways to preserve an important structure.”

Advocates for saving the house have worked hard to find a solution. But time is running out. Soon, BSA will have the right to demolish the Kemper Gunn House.

Henkels says that moving it to the Elm Street parking lot is the only feasible solution.

I agree with Henkels — and many other Westporters. This choice seems like a no-brainer. Saving one historic house is far more important than saving a few parking spots.