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Bedford Square partners: Move Queen Anne house to parking lot

Updated 6:58 am, Thursday, November 22, 2012
  • David Waldman, right, a partner in Bedford Square Associates, last year joined members of the Planning and Zoning Commission for a tour of downtown properties where the developers are proposing a multi-faceted project, including the Church Lane site of this 1890 Queen Anne Victorian house. Photo: File Photo / Westport News
    David Waldman, right, a partner in Bedford Square Associates, last year joined members of the Planning and Zoning Commission for a tour of downtown properties where the developers are proposing a multi-faceted project, including the Church Lane site of this 1890 Queen Anne Victorian house. Photo: File Photo

 

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This may be a case where a house divided will actually remain standing.

The structure -- a 122-year-old Queen Anne house on Church Lane -- has been a flashpoint dividing public opinion over redevelopment of the site of the Westport Weston Family Y and an adjacent property where the house stands into a multi-faceted development to be called Bedford Square.

Bedford Square Associates, the development partnership, initially proposed razing the structure, known as the Gunn house, so its property at 35 Church Lane could be re-zoned to build part of the project.

On Tuesday morning, in an effort to expedite the project -- and please local historic preservationists -- the Bedford Square partnership unveiled a plan to move the 1890 Queen Anne house to a nearby town-owned parking lot.

The developers told the Downtown 2020 Committee that they are proposing the house, listed on the town's historic properties inventory, be moved to a spot in the Baldwin parking lot off Elm Street. They've offered to pay the cost of the move and then turn the building over to the town.

"Where it goes from there in terms of renovating or operating is the town's business," Paul Brandes, of Charter Realty, one of the Bedford Square partners, told the committee.

"We would go one step further and present a business plan, if the town wanted us to do it," he said.

Louis Gagliano, the chairman of the Downtown 2020 Committee, said he was surprised at how low the bid was for the house-moving project, as received by the Bedford Square partners -- "under a half-million dollars," he said, but declined to be more specific.

"The biggest expense is not in the move," said David Waldman, of David Adam Realty, another partner, but in renovating the Queen Anne structure itself.

"Why are we doing this?" asked committee member Robert Jacobs. "It's a Victorian house. It's not beautiful."

Grayson Braun, who serves on the Historic District Commission, pointed out it is listed on the state's historic registry. "The house is an important Queen Anne house," she said.

Speaking as a private citizen, she called the relocation proposal "a great idea. I think it'll afford the house the type of dignity it may not get" if it remained next to new, larger construction.

"The only concern that I can see is some people saying, `What does the town get? ... We're losing (13) parking spaces, but what do we get?' "

"Not everybody is a preservationist in town," she said.

"I think it's just wonderful," said Don Bergmann, a Representative Town Meeting member for District 1. "I think it's wonderful and very exciting."

"It takes away a big battle," he said of the dispute over prospective demolition of the house.

The idea of using the house for low- to moderate-rent retail space was discussed.

"As to benefit, I assume there'll be some real estate taxes paid somewhere," Bergmann said.

"This is only one possibility," Brandes said. "But no one else has come forward with any other ideas."

"We're not benefitting economically," he said. "We're making a donation."