Historic panel likely will not OK home
Updated 4:02 pm, Thursday, January 11, 2018
WESTPORT — There’s no story more common in Westport than those that pit developers against town historic preservationists. The latest debacle, a fight over the construction of a new house on a historic property in Greens Farms, will likely fall in favor of the historic preservationists.
The case involves the former property of the late residents and prominent artists Naiad and Walter Einsel. After Walter died, Naiad argued, in 2007, for her property to be considered a local historic district to preserve the couple’s mid-19th century farmhouse across from Greens Farms School.
At one point, historic preservation advocate and resident Morley Boyd said Naiad hoped to turn the couple’s home into a museum of their work, which includes kinetic sculptures and commercial design work, such as the original Merrill Lynch logo. No such plan came to fruition, but Naiad ensured the property, two parcels at 20 and 26 Morningside Drive, received historic status.
Emil Fish, of Greens Farms Developers, bought the property for $1.5 million in 2016 and the developer set its sights on building another home at the location. For the last two months, the project’s architects and developers have attempted to convince the Historic District Commission to approve their plans for a new-construction home on the property adjacent to the existing home.
The last of three public discussion sessions occurred Tuesday night and the resounding disapproval of HDC members and residents suggests the commission will likely not approve the developer’s plans to construct another house on the property before the time on the developer’s application runs out on Feb. 1.
The project’s architect, Joe Cugno, presented a rendering of the proposed Italianate that he’s devised after presenting over 12 models of potential homes to the commission over the last two months.
Despite Cugno’s effort, the commission universally said they did not approve of the home because they said it is too big, overwhelms Walter Einsel’s studio from those on the street, and changes the rural character of the local historic district.
“I think the basic nature of this historic district is that of a rural environment. The statement report refers to that. When this house was built, Greens Farms was primarily an agricultural part of town and I think this is a remnant of that agrarian heritage. Critical to that is the sense of openness and the sense that it’s unified not only by the structures themselves, but by the spaces between the structures,” HDC Chairman Randy Henkels said.
“This structure is so big it completely dwarfs the studio,” Henkels said. Cugno responded that any house built on the parcel would necessarily overwhelm the studio, and therefore the commission is deeming the area essentially unbuildable.
“I think there’s clearly a house of an appropriate scale that could support that studio,” Henkels said.
The project’s manager, Annette Perry, of Grand Development LLC, referenced town, state and federal historic preservation handbooks that she said don’t prohibit “overwhelming” of an existing historic property.
In the public comment period of the meeting, seven residents spoke in opposition to the proposed development and speculated the developers redrew the lot lines on the property a few months back and plan to build the new home at its specific location on the property because the developers plan to build more homes on the property in the future.
“In my opinion, this would still cause an adverse impact to the Historic District’s setting by interfering with a long-established public view and degrading the relationship between the historic farmhouse and its contextually related studio,” said Greg Kraut, a Greens Farms Representative Town Meeting member.
Because the development is proposed in a local historic district, the HDC has the power to approve or deny any alterations to the buildings within the district. The commission closed the hearing without making a final decision, but vowed to write a resolution to either approve or deny the developer’s application at a work session before Feb. 1 at a yet unannounced meeting.
“I’m grateful that you guys are standing your ground,” resident and Save Westport Now member Wendy Van Wie said to the HDC at the hearing’s close.