Despite misgivings, the Historic District Commission and Architectural Review Board gave their conditional blessing Tuesday to plans to permit relocation of the historic Kemper Gunn House to a new site downtown.
To facilitate the project, a unanimous positive review was forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding a proposed zone change for a portion of the Baldwin parking lot so the structure can be moved to the Elm Street site from Church Lane. The undertaking will make the Church Lane property available for redevelopment as part of the Bedford Square project planned at the site of the Westport Weston Family Y.
The zone change, if approved, would re-classify a section on the south corner of the parking lot from Residential A to BCD/H. The P&Z is scheduled to discuss the proposal when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall.
The two panels on Tuesday also jointly supported proposed modifications to the house, including adding a new stair tower and site work at the new location.
However, officials asked Bedford Square developer David Waldman and his partners to give them an unofficial say in the renovation details going forward.
Some confusion arose during the meeting over whether Waldman and his partners would be required to return before the panels in order to get material and design approval as renovation on the 130-year-old building got underway.
"You have to trust us," Waldman said. "We're not looking to sidestep anything. We just want to move forward."
But at least two commissioners expressed concern that if the details are not put in writing, there could be future repercussions.
"I feel like I would be remiss if I was sitting here and this was the moment of truth and there was no other opportunity," said Betsy Wacker, vice chairwoman of the historic commission.
Waldman pointed out, however, that under the current arrangement with the town, the developers are not required to address details of the restoration, which the historic commission and architectural board might recommend.
"Like the Spotted Horse (restaurant), we are restoring it to have the image of what it was in 1884," he said of the renovations envisioned for the house. "We're going to ... do our best to mimic what existed (based on) as much as we can find historically."
"The less I have to do to spend money, the happier I am," Waldman added, but he pledged that when the project is completed it satisfy those who had hoped to see the house saved.
"I need flexibility," he said.
His partner Karen Johnson pointed out, "This is a cooperative process. This is one of the unique opportunities to have a true public-private process."
"We made a proposal to move the house," she said. "We're moving it to town land ... we have to work out a long-term lease agreement for the land (but) at this point I'm not sure we have the level of detail that you may be looking for."
"There is a time constraint to get the house down and move it," said Representative Town Meeting member Matthew Mandell, District 1.
"What P&Z needs is that the look and shape of the house is good," he said. "For them, shingles, windows don't matter."
"We have to have a decision," Johnson said. "You have to say the plan that we presented to you is acceptable ... We don't want to slow up our regulatory process."
After the P&Z's deliberations on the proposed zone change, Johnson said a hearing for the project's zoning permit and site plan is currently scheduled for April 24.