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Stonington report outlines town's options for preserving historic buildings

Stonington -- Town Planner Keith Brynes has prepared a detailed report outlining the various options the town has when it comes to preserving its historic buildings.

The options include implementing demolition delays, creating historic and village districts and offering preservation incentives.  

The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to review the Historic Preservation Strategies Report  when it meets virtually at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The issue was raised in 2018 when the town issued a controversial demolition for two homes on Haley Street in Mystic without the 90-day waiting period that had been informally used in the past. Two weeks ago the commission approved a plan to turn the empty lot where the homes once stood into a 14-space parking lot for the former Odd Fellows building on Cottrell Street to serve its commercial and residential tenants.

The issue also came up in 2019 when the state officials said the town must preserve a home on the proposed Mystic Boathouse Park property which is part of the Rossie Mill historic district after the town planned to tear it down to make way for a boathouse. Plans have now been redrawn to incorporate the home into the boathouse.

Also in 2019, a 19th-century building that was part of the mill complex on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck was torn down. Its historic importance had been recognized by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which said it should be the center of a revised industrial and commercial complex.

After the parking lot approval two week ago, commission chairman David Rathbun said the commission will begin work on creating a proposed demolition delay ordinance that could be sent to voters for approval later this year. He said delaying a demolition by 90 days would not hurt any proposed projects.

In his report, Byrnes defined historic structures, listed the recommendations involving historic preservation in the town's Plan of Conservation and Development and pointed out the recent steps the town has taken to promote historic preservation. He also listed various reasons why historic buildings are demolished such as being in such poor condition that rehabilitation is not possible or there is a need to create off-street parking in village areas.

He wrote said that "demolitions of historic structures can never be completely prevented but the Town can adopt policies to discourage them."

In discussing the demolition ordinance, Brynes wrote that "While delay ordinances do not prohibit demolitions, they provide some time for the municipality or members of the community to attempt to purchase a property or file a motion in court under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act statute."

He also wrote that it appears a demolition ordinance would also apply to properties in the borough. He also listed the 51 communities in the state that have demolition delay ordinances.

As for historic districts, Brynes wrote they "represent the most thorough and comprehensive protection of Historic Structures."

When it comes to historic districts, though, he wrote "The community will have to weigh
the benefits of increased protection against the challenges which include a more difficult and lengthy
review process for property owners and investors."

In addition, creation of a historic district has to be approved by two-thirds of property owners in a
proposed district. 

Brynes recommended that "Significant public input should be solicited prior to any municipal decisions on these topics." 

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