West Parish preservation to be volunteer-driven
Published 1:03 am, Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Since that time, the issue of preserving the former site of the West Parish Meeting House on the corner of Green's Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector, has been regularly tested. Repeated plans, including storing a huge tub grinder to grind up wood for mulch and paving the land for school bus parking, have been proposed, but none succeeded.
"The preservation of this property has been, short of the mall, the No. 2 project we worked on," said Art Schoeller, president of the Green's Farms Association, a neighborhood group consisting of residents in the area.
For the first time, a long-term preservation plan is being developed in order to ensure that 5.9-acre parcel of land not only remains undeveloped, but conveys the history of the site through low-key informational markers. While the plan is being paid for by town money and a grant, actually performing the labor will cost extra.
The plan is expected to come to completion in November, and it appears unlikely that the town will pay for the labor, regardless of what's chosen for the final design.
"There basically is no budget from the town as far as I know. We met with [Parks and Recreation] and [the Department of Public Works] and their budgets are strained and there just isn't the funding," said Carol Leahy, director of the Historic District Commission. "Most of this will have to come from volunteer work and perhaps grants and maybe even local organizations."
In conjunction with the Historic District Commission, Stonington-based Landscape Elements LLC met last week with town officials and the public in order to gauge what can be done and should be done. Landscape Elements was awarded a $13,600 contract in order to come up with a plan for the site, which might include trails, signs and markers indicating where the original meeting house used to be.
"Whatever we do will not be impacting any of the natural elements adversely," said Elena Pascarella, principal of the company. "It involves not pulling a lot of material off the site or putting material to the site. That uses energy. That uses gasoline. We're doing to see what we can do to enhance the site and create a nice historical focal piece for people to walk by."
The parcel of land, which contains little more than overgrowth on a field and some wetlands, once contained the meeting house, which served as the center of government and religion in the area until it was burned down by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Since then, artifacts have been recovered and the basic outline of the foundation has been determined.
For Schoeller, he's looking forward to a preservation plan finally being put in place. He referred to the repeated attempts to develop the site as Westport's version of the movie Groundhog Day.
"Even if we win some victory for some [historical] designation, the best way to preserve is to have an ongoing preservation plan that continually keeps in front of everybody the historical value," he said. "We can win another victory, and then we come back again with some request to put in a fire station there."
It's too early to say how much money and time will be needed to work on the site, but Schoeller said he'd like to see volunteers come together like they did to complete the renovation of the parking lot at the Sherwood Mill Pond earlier this year.
"People are going to have to roll up their sleeves," he said. "How do we fund this? How do we rally the volunteers to either do some of the work or some of the fundraising?"