Neighbors split over plan for Maplewood historic district
Updated 5:36 pm, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Neighbor was pitted against neighbor at a heated public hearing Tuesday as the Historic District Commission reviewed a proposal to establish the Maplewood Avenue Local Historic District.
Neighborhood residents lined up on both sides of the issue -- some were determined to preserve the character of their traditional neighborhood with working-class roots, while others expressed concern about a potential drop in property values and the imposition of renovation restrictions if the district were approved.
Members of the Historic District Commission, however, voted unanimously to accept the study report reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Council and the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
The affirmative vote paves the way for the next step in the process. The town clerk will distribute ballots to residents within the defined borders of the proposed Maplewood district. If two-thirds of respondents approve the designation, the issue will then go before the Representative Town Meeting for final approval.
Maplewood Avenue resident Michael Beck told the HDC he objects to the formal designation, contending the process was initiated based on a collection of some "fraudulent signatures" on a petition and the inclusion of some houses that are not old enough to be considered historic, and it has "all the hallmarks of gerrymandering."
Beck said he doesn't think it would be fair to force him to abide by historic district rules that were not in place when he purchased his house.
Maplewood Avenue resident David Lepska said Beck raised issues that may affect his vote.
Jennifer Alfano, who grew up in the house at 29 Maplewood Ave. and is among a group favoring historic-district designation, said the goal is to preserve the character of the neighborhood and maintain property values. Beck and others, however, wondered if values would take a hit and if it would be more difficult to sell a house if the historic district designation is granted.
While Maplewood Avenue resident Theodore Giannitti said he is all for keeping "McMansions" from the streetscape -- "We don't need these big monstrosities" -- he would rather that issue be addressed by the P&Z than through the creation of a local historic designation for the neighborhood.
Robert R. Mills IV, who owns a house on Maplewood, which has been in his family for three generations, did not speak during the public hearing, but said afterward he favors local historic designation for the street that includes houses with 20th-century architectural character of Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival styles.
"I want to preserve the street. I don't want somebody to come in and take advantage of a small community by buying a property, building upon it, flipping it and leaving," said Mills, who does not live in the Maplewood house, which was his father's childhood home.
Before voting to accept the study report, HDC members offered their reasons for backing the proposed designation. Commission Chairman Francis H. Henkels called the neighborhood a time capsule of a certain period in Westport history.
Member Edward Gerber said no one greeted him when he first moved to Westport, but thinks if he had moved to Maplewood Avenue numerous neighbors would have welcomed him. "With cookies," one resident told him.
HDC Vice Chairwoman Betsy Wacker called Maplewood Avenue a wonderful cluster of homes that really tells the story of Westport and who moved into the town when. "What a fascinating slice of Westport history," said Wacker, attending her last HDC meeting. Wacker, a trained archaeologist, is leaving that town body after seven years on the board.
Wacker received a citation and a newly created Westport lapel pin -- recognizing the town's recent Fan Favorite designation by state tourism officials -- from First Selectman James Marpe.