Historic Westport house spared demolition
Published 6:25 pm, Wednesday, December 1, 2010
A historic Church Lane house, slated for demolition, will apparently be spared the wrecking ball.
"I'm extremely pleased with the application," said Historic District Commission Chairman Maggie Feczko. "The streetscape will be preserved and I think that the charm of the historic building will be a great draw for business purposes."
The Historic District Commission and the Architectural Review Board will review Waldman's revised application on Tuesday. Waldman's plan comes before the boards because Church Lane is located within the Business Center District/Historic Zone.
Saving the Sherwood Mansion House is part of a grand vision for revitalizing Church Lane.
Waldman, who along with various partners already owns the Patagonia building as well as the downtown YMCA property, said if all goes well with the approval process, he plans to have a restaurant tenant in the Sherwood Mansion House, along with a courtyard and parking accessed via Church Lane. He also hopes, at some point in the future, that a section of Church Lane could be designated for pedestrians only.
This past summer, Waldman wasn't sure if it would economically feasible to restore the historic house to its original character based on how much he could charge for rents. He said the only way to save the building and keep it on Church Lane would be if a benefactor came forward, or if the state or another revenue source could secure funds to preserve it.
None of that happened.
However in working with the HDC, Waldman proposed retaining the exterior charm and appearance while renovating the interior, as opposed to restoring all of the original aspects of the interior. This allowed for a less-expensive renovation.
The adjacent three-story building, which used to house the Town Crier newspaper, offices and stores, will be transformed into a two-story multi- or single-tenant building. One of its three floors is on Church Lane because of the property's topography, but the proposed change to two floors will allow for 20-foot ceilings on the first floor.
"It gave me the ability, economically to have the money to renovate the home, so it kept the scope of the project more in line with what I initially intended it to be," Waldman said, "and simultaneously, it created a much more dramatic space, similar to the high ceiling you have in Patagonia."
Feczko said the Sherwood Mansion House is one of the few examples of a Federal-style structure left in Westport. It may look a little worn on the outside, Feczko said, but it is in good structural condition.
"The guts of the house are post-and-beam construction," she said. "The timbers are very strong."
Waldman said listening to community reaction to his initial proposal played a part in his decision to save the structure and incorporate it into his overall plans for the development formally known as 101-107 Post Road. He noted that saving the Sherwood Mansion House will provide for a better transition between the residential-type structures of Church Lane, including the Red Cross building, and its commercial segment, which ends with Patagonia.
"It really does make that transition much smoother," he said.
"By taking the time to re-think the project to include the house, I feel we have come up with a better plan, more in keeping with the character of the downtown area while creating more dramatic retail experience," Waldman added.
The HDC and ARB are scheduled to review Waldman's revised application at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 201 of Westport Town Hall.
Waldman hopes construction will can start in March or April and that everything will be finished and open by the holidays next year.