Bridge Street seeks to join national historic register
Updated 3:33 pm, Friday, February 24, 2017
WESTPORT — A stretch of Bridge Street and surrounding properties is under consideration for an honorary historic status that could offer residents the chance to voice opinions if federal money is ever used to amend the roadway.
The district — running along Bridge Street from Compo Road South across the Saugatuck Swing Bridge — contains 13 of Westport’s local historical resources within its boundaries. If it ends up on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, any federally funded changes to the roadway would require a public hearing process.
Along with its rich history, the area contains the Saugatuck swing bridge, officially called the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge and built in 1884. The Department of Transportation released a report last summer recommending significant rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge, to some Westport residents’ concern.
At a public session, most advocated for preserving the bridge. Already listed on the National Register, public input on the bridge’s future has been secured.
But, Henkels said, “Some of the citizens of Bridge Street have been concerned.” With the DOT looking to replace or rehabilitate the bridge, some worry the street that runs across the bridge could change as well, a worst-case scenario, he said.
National Register listing is an honorary designation that puts no constraints on property owners. After property owners within the proposed boundaries expressed support, the HDC applied to the state and received a letter qualifying the area as eligible for consideration. The commission is looking to contract an architectural historian — using state grant funding — to prepare a nomination study for state review.
While sympathetic to concerns of residents of the area’s properties and harboring its own concerns about rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge, the HDC is primarily pursuing a nomination for the Bridge Street district out of a desire to preserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood itself, HDC Staff Administrator Carol Leahy said.
The review process in place for National Register sites would allow residents a voice in federally funded changes, described in an Advisory Council on Historic Preservation guide as offering citizens “the opportunity to alert the federal government to the historic properties you value and influence decisions about projects that affect them.”
“It’s a long process, but I think it’s quite a prominent designation and a tempting one,” Henkels said, because the honorific listing would not impact properties, but would offer the hearing stipulation.
It would be a tool for residents if they wanted to oppose changes to the street, which is also state Route 136 along the half-mile stretch in the district, he said.
“It will give us that power, but it also recognizes some very distinctive houses in that area and provides some recognition to those owners, encourages them to hopefully maintain their historic properties to retain the historic character,” Henkels said.
National Hall, Mill Cove, Compo-Owenoke and Kings Highway North historic districts are among national register listings in Westport.