Monday, December 01, 2014
A Westport committee tonight disclosed details of a plan to create a National Historic District comprised of properties in Westport’s center to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“The National Register District is primarily an honorary designation that has an historic aspect,” said Francis H. Henkels, chairman of the Westport Historic District Commission acting in his capacity as chairman of the Village District Steering Committee (VDSC), which is proposing the designation.
He told a Town Hall auditorium meeting attended by about a dozen persons that the historic designation effort involving properties from the west bank of the Saugatuck River to Myrtle Avenue should not be confused with the simultaneous work by the VDSC to create a Village District in Westport’s center.
Henkels emphasized that a private property designated for the National Historic Register would have no restrictions placed upon it and could even be demolished if that were the owner’s desire.
He noted that at least seven Westport structures or areas are already on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Compo/Owenoke Historic District, the Compo Mill Cove Historic District, the Kings Highway North Historic District, the National Hall Historic District, Greens Farms Elementary School, the Merritt Parkway, and the Saugatuck Railroad Bridge.
Consultant Stephanie Dyer-Carroll explained that the National Register, administered by the National Park Service, is the official federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.
Dyer-Carroll is senior project manager with Hartford-based Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., planning consultants, which is working on the project with Boston-based The Cecil Group Inc. The VDSC secured a $50,000 Connecticut Trust grant to carry out the study leading to Westport’s application for the program.
Dyer-Carroll said the study found that Westport’s center qualified for the historic district designation on several criteria. “It’s been the locus of commercial, municipal, and social activity for over two centuries,” she said.
Her draft report said: “The proposed district is also locally significant for its architectural quality and as a diverse collection of residential, commercial and municipal buildings that are representative of their style and period of construction. Despite modification over time, the vast majority of the buildings within the district retain sufficient integrity to convey their historical significance.”
The State Historic Preservation Office and then the Department of the Interior must approve the application, Dyer-Carroll said. She and Henkels said there is no downside for private property owners for such a designation and benefits include eligibility for certain state and federal tax provisions.
At the end of the presentation, longtime Westport resident Estelle Margolis, who lives on Myrtle Avenue adjacent to Westport Town Hall, asked if a private property owner could opt out of the program.
Neither Dyer-Carroll nor Brad Schide of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, who also took part in the presentation, would give a direct response. Dyer-Carroll said any objections could be directed to the State Historic Preservation Office. Schide asked Margolis “Why would you want to opt out?”
Margolis responded: “I don’t feel comfortable having an historic designation because we have in essence fought the town on a local historic district designation. I don’t feel comfortable being in any designated district, state, federal, or local.”
Morley Boyd, a resident of Violet Lane off Myrtle Avenue, said he welcomed the National Register effort and asked if the boundary for the district could be expanded to include the Saugatuck Congregational Church on Post Road East.
“It would be unfortunate if it were excluded,” he said.
Dyer-Carroll said that request would be taken into consideration.
She said the intention is for a draft of the Westport center designation application to be presented this month to the State Historic Preservation Office but that the timeframe for its review was not known.
Posted 12/01/14 at 10:16 PM Permalink
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Sounds like a great idea. I wonder if this will help manage the the architectural integrity of the storefronts on Main Street? I doubt anyone who drives up Main that has lived here for more then a few years would say that the charm and character have been maintained. What happened? Where did we go wrong? In the past, a drive down Main during the holidays would lift your spirits…..now it’s a depressing sight for sure.