It's official. The long-dilapidated structures on Post Road West next to Cross Street will be coming down, pending approval from the Historic District Commission.
The town's new Blight Prevention Board held its first meeting Thursday night, where it unanimously agreed the four structures, owned by Cross Street, LLC, met the criteria to be designated as "blight" as defined in Westport's recently adopted blight ordinance.
The ordinance requires that properties deemed as blighted must be demolished or repaired within a reasonable time as agreed upon by the board and owner.
"I went out and confirmed that they appeared to me to warrant review by the board," said Steve Smith, the town blight officer. "There's one in the middle of the group that is occupied and not blighted, (but) it's not part of this discussion."
Stephen Grathwohl, principal with Westport Property Management, LLC, who represented the owner, said demolition permits are already pending for all four structures, which include 57, 63, 69-73 and 79 Post Road West.
"We're now just waiting for the Historic District Commission ... and as soon as we get approval, we'll move ahead," he told the board.
There remains, however the possibility the historic panel will not grant immediate approval of demolishing No. 57, which is more than 100 years old. Should that happen, however, the owner is still required to remove the other structures within 60 days.
The historic commission is scheduled to rule on the matter Jan. 19.
"It's a potentially historic property," Smith said, "but it appeared to me to have some problems."
Grathwohl said all four of the structures in question are beyond repair, with the extent of problems rendering them not worth the costs of repairs.
"These properties are not the kind that would be economically viable to put money into," he said. "There's not really anything there worth doing anything with."
"The story is that this is part of a development site," he said, with the current owner purchasing the buildings about four years ago. But "like a lot of development sites in this area, we got caught up in the economy."
At least one of these buildings was abandoned close to 20 years ago, while the others have fallen in disuse over time.
For one family, however, the house between the abandoned properties will, for the immediate future, remain a relatively low-cost rental property.
"It is rented out to a family at an affordable rent," Grathwohl said. "It rents for $1,000 a month and you can't find many houses in Westport for a $1,000 a month."
"We have plans to do something with the property when we can, when the financing's there and the demand," he said. "You have to wait for the economy to come back so you've got people interested in renting space or buying space."
Three neighbors attended the meeting to support designation of the site as blighted.
"It's an eyesore," said Barbara Libove. "I'm sure it's unsafe if you go in there."
"That is the gateway to Westport and I think it's despicable that they have been allowed to rot there," she said.
Smith explained to the committee that, in his estimation, the buildings meet the blight criteria because of broken windows, holes in the roofs and worn siding.
"There are two or three more addresses I hope to put on next month's agenda," he said, although at least one of those buildings is currently occupied.
Commissioners agreed it will be more of a challenge to make rulings on occupied properties.
"The last thing I want to do is put out a Westport citizen," said Chairman Joe Strickland. "We have to be sensitive to that."