Commission seeks ways to preserve Wilton's historic commercial buildings

The development 200 Sharp Hill Square was created around preserving the historic Raymond-Morehouse House, which was the former Sheridan Interiors furniture store. On Dec. 10, the building is ready to be moved on the building site. Two buildings combining residential and retail will be built at the Danbury Road property.

The development 200 Sharp Hill Square was created around preserving the historic Raymond-Morehouse House, which was the former Sheridan Interiors furniture store. On Dec. 10, the building is ready to be moved on the building site. Two buildings combining residential and retail will be built at the Danbury Road property.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — A local panel is trying to preserve the town’s legacy by preventing developers from taking more historic structures.

The Historic District and Historic Properties Commission has hired a researcher to investigate specific regulations or ordinances other municipalities have adopted to protect historic buildings that were not on the state or national registers of historic places. However, the group discovered there were no precedents Wilton could follow.

“What that says is we need to look carefully if any buildings on Wilton’s commercial corridor are important enough to be brought to the state register level,” said Allison Sanders, chair of the commission. That would allow for tax credits if someone were to propose a development and preserve it.

One of the most powerful means of preserving historic buildings is with a historic district. Wilton has six, although No. 3 is folded within No. 5:

1: Lambert Corners, 150 Danbury Road.

2: Ridgefield Road Nos. 65, 59, 70, 77, 80, 98, and 108; 11 Belden Hill Road; 16 Deacon’s Lane.

4: Hurlbutt Street Schoolhouse, 157 Hurlbutt St.

5: Wilton Historical Society Museum Complex, 224 Danbury Road.

6: Georgetown neighborhood of Church Street, West Church Street, and Redding Road (Route 107).

Suggested protections

The researcher, Emily Innes, of the firm Harriman, presented a 10-page report to the commission over the summer that offered additional means of protection that Wilton could consider.

First among these was a suggestion to create an electronic brochure for property owners and developers on the importance of preserving historic buildings and financial incentives for preservation.

Also suggested were:

 A requirement that anyone looking to redevelop historic structures discuss permit requirements, the demolition delay ordinance, and the benefits of adaptive reuse and building preservation with relevant town staff and elected officials.

 Pre-application meetings between a potential developer and appropriate town departments to speed and streamline the application process and approvals for those who follow adaptive reuse/historic preservation requirements.

 Expansion of incentives for adaptive reuse to commercial buildings, beyond what is now offered to residential buildings.

Other ideas the town could consider include:

 Allowing multiple buildings on a site with one or more historic buildings. Cluster development could preserve a historic building’s original location.

 Allow mixed-uses to be distributed among buildings rather than by floors of a building.

 Increase the number of dwelling units per acre in exchange for preserving a historic building.

 Tie historic preservation to sustainable building and landscape design.

Financial incentives

There are opportunities for financial incentives related to historic preservation, among them, partnering with Preservation Connecticut to identify funding sources. Since 2003, this nonprofit has given almost $7 million in matching grants to local governments, other nonprofits and private property owners.

Financial incentives can include state historic tax credits and donation of preservation easements for tax credits.

The document Innes presented to the commission also includes how some of these changes could be integrated into Wilton’s zoning regulations.

Sanders said the commission has sent the report to Town Planner Michael Wrinn and the Planning and Zoning subcommittee that is considering zoning changes in Wilton’s commercial corridor, but there are no plans to move forward with the recommended changes to town ordinances.

If funding is secured, the commission could work on the suggested electronic brochure with Planning and Zoning.