The Historic District Commission voted unanimously on Oct. 7 to delay for 90 days the demolition of the structures at 183 Ridgefield Road, collectively known in town as the Schlichting Homestead.
The special meeting was called for that very purpose. In Wilton, when a property owner decides to demolish a building that is more than 50 years old and larger than 500 square feet in size, he or she must notify the Building Department, which sends an automatic notice to the Historic District Commission, giving the commissioners 15 days to decide whether to exercise their ultimate power of issuing a 90-day delay. Because the commission was given notice on Sept. 25, and its regular meeting was scheduled for Oct. 13, the deadline would have expired before the commission met.
Commissioner Al Stauderman made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Allison Sanders, and the seven present all voted in favor of issuing the delay.
The commission will now submit its ruling in writing to the Building Department, citing its reasoning, which Kevin Quinlan, chair of the commission, defined as, “It’s a historically notable and architecturally notable property which has been a landmark in Wilton for centuries.”
After the meeting was officially adjourned, Quinlan opened up the room to comments from the public, who were well in attendance, filling almost every seat in Old Town Hall.
An architect who spoke said he specializes in historic properties, and he said saving the structures would take a certain amount of “magical thinking” on the side of the concerned residents of the town.
“Usually, preservation and working with the developer involves magical thinking. You have to engage the developer in a way to think there’s a good reason why — and it’s usually tied to money — to preserve a property. What can that mean? It can start by engaging with the planning officer,” he suggested.
Wilton resident Victoria Mavis, who privately disclosed her name to The Bulletin, started a petition to save the homestead, which currently sits at 343 signatures.
Someone suggested a group be formed out of the union of those who signed Mavis’s petition and those present at the meeting who wished to join the effort, “spearheaded” with the expertise of the architect and guided by the direction of the Historic District Commission.
Quinlan explained that such a group would not need to go through the commission to be put in touch with Town Planner Bob Nerney or the Planning and Zoning Department, but he assured the public attendees that the commission, as volunteers, would help the group in any way it sought to be helped. He also endorsed the suggestion that approaching Nerney next would be a good first step for those who wish to preserve the buildings, adding that perhaps some sort of zoning relief could make preservation feasible for the developer.
During the meeting, Quinlan also disclosed that he has met with the developer and the developer expressed a willingness to hear and work together with anyone who wants to prevent the demolition.
Mavis’s petition can be found and signed by visiting Change.org and searching “Schlichting.”