Decision on historic property postponed
Updated 5:36 pm, Friday, December 15, 2017
WESTPORT — Greens Farms residents, historic preservation activists and developers sparred Tuesday night over the fate of a property formerly owned by the now deceased elders of Westport’s artist community.
The Historic District Commission decided to postpone approval of a new construction home located in a Greens Farms Local Historic District at its meeting Tuesday.
The proposal for a new construction home at 20 Morningside Drive South, brought by representatives of Greens Farms Developers LLC, the property owner, included five home models. The Historic District Commission delayed granting a Certificate of Appropriateness Application” for the applicant’s proposed new construction because they wanted the applicants to propose one house model and not five.
“I believe if you really had a vision, if you were really passionate about the property, and if you really understood Greens Farms, you wouldn’t need five or nine drawings. You’d come up with one design that you loved and you’re passionate about instead of making us say eeny meeny miny moe,” HDC alternate Marilyn Harding said.
The applicant agreed to come back next month with only one house model proposed, but did so only after first voicing frustration with the HDC’s request, especially because the applicant presented four different home models to the HDC at its meeting last month.
“We could easily have come before you with a single residence, but we chose to give variety to say we want your input. We said four versions, and those four didn’t work out, and we’re fine with that. We have five more, and we’re allowing you to tell us which one would be best on there,” said Joe Cugno, of Cugno Architecture, the project’s architect.
The proposed home at 20 Morningside sits next to the mid-19th century farmhouse at 26 Morningside Drive South, across from Greens Farms Elementary School.
Walter and Naiad Einsel, prominent artists in Westport, lived in the farmhouse at 26 Morningside since the 1960s and owned the adjoining lot at 20 Morningside, which housed Walter’s artist studio.
A decade after Walter died, in 1998, Naiad requested Local Historic Property Status for both properties from the town of Westport in an effort to protect the historic character of the buildings and property. In 2007, her wish was granted and the 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South Local Historic District was born.
Naiad died last year, and both properties were sold to Morningside Drive Homes LLC, which Melvin Barr, of Barr Associates LLC, confirmed at the Tuesday meeting is the same owner as Greens Farms Developers LLC.
The owners want to build a home on the 20 Morningside lot, and because it is part of a Local Historic District, must get a Certificate of Appropriateness for any proposed building changes.
In addition to their frustration with having to choose between a wide variety of proposed home models, which ranged in style from Italianate to Victorian-esque and shingle-style, HDC members voiced concern about the size and massing of the proposed new construction.
“The massing is still not in a place where I’m comfortable. It doesn’t subordinate itself at all to the other structures in the district, not remotely,” HDC member Grayson Braun said.
Architect Joe Gugno said the five proposed structures were smaller in scale than the four versions proposed at the November HDC meeting, but Braun insisted size and massing are different metrics. Massing, Braun said, considers the size at which a building presents, and not just its actual size.
“Masswise, the Ellwood Hughes House (the historic name of the house at 26 Morningside) is a rambling structure and it’s 5,800 square feet in a lot of different ways by the way it’s positioned on the property and things that have been added on. This still presents as a giant block with some details attached to it,” Braun said.
HDC Chairman Randy Henkels voiced worry the new construction would block the view of the studio from passersby. “The relationship of the studio to the street is important to the character of the district,” Henkels said.
In response to Henkels’ comment on the importance of keeping the studio, Annette Perry, one of the project’s representatives, said, “By saying that you have a relationship to the barn, you’re essentially saying there’s no place to put a building on the lot.”
Gugno concurred with Perry and said, “The barn is such a big structure in the middle of the back of the lot. I don’t see how you could possibly place anything on that lot if that visual effect is that important from the street.”
Many Greens Farms residents spoke during the public comment period and throughout the HDC’s discussion, and all voiced opposition to the proposed development.
“It is our opinion that treating this historic district in a piecemeal fashion will result in increased density and sufficient pressure to ultimately lead to the demise of the structures in the district itself,” said Art Schoeller, president of the Greens Farms Association.
Greg Kraut, a Greens Farms resident and recently elected Representative Town Meeting member, spoke on behalf of his residents.
“I represent the residents of Greens Farms, who express through several emails and calls their strong objection to any kind of material structure that would change the context and visually impair the district. In my opinion, this seems to be a watershed moment for the residents to understand the true authority of the HDC in protecting a historic district.”
The HDC will discuss the fate of the 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South Local Historic District at its next meeting on Jan. 9.