Report reviews Wilton’s property portfolio
How should 10 properties owned by the town of Wilton be managed and who should do it?
A report by the Real Estate Study Committee presented to Board of Selectmen on July 15 attempts to answer those questions.
Last year, the board asked the committee — comprised of real estate professionals Jeff Rutishauser, chairman; Tom McDevitt and Paul Behar —to review the 10 properties in question.
These particular town properties are deemed “nonessential” to a major town function, according to Rutishauser. As such, the review does not include “essential” town properties such as the schools, town hall and the police station.
The properties were broken down into two categories in the report — four nonresidential properties and six residential properties:
1. Center School/Town Green, 101 Old Ridgefield Road. (Leased by Wilton Center Real Estate LLC for $45,000/year, plus 5 percent of gross revenues).
2. Old Town Hall, 69 Ridgefield Road. (Leased by Wilton Garden Club for $1/year).
3. Dana House/Trackside, 15/19 Station Road. (Ground leased by Teen Center of Wilton Inc. for $1/year).
4. G&B School, 49 New Street Georgetown. (Leased by Georgetown Community Assn. for $1/year).
1. Marvin Tavern, 405 A&B Danbury Road. (Two separate apartments rented to tenants, $3,192/month).
2. 415 Danbury Road. (House rented to tenant, $1,545/month).
3. 49 Old Danbury Road. (House rented to Board of Education employee, $1,045/month).
4. 7 New Street. (House rented to town employee, $1,241/month).
5. 31 New Street. (House rented to tenant, $2,416/month).
6. 275 Hurlbutt Street. (Residence leased by Friends of Ambler Farm, $2,600/month).
All but one of the properties have historical significance. Old Town Hall, G&B School, and Marvin Tavern are listed on the National Historic Property List.
The rest (except for Center School/Town Green) are listed on a State/Local Historic Property List or located in an historic neighborhood.
As for Center School/Town Green, it was a historic property until a significant portion of the buildings was razed and the property was redeveloped in the 1980s, losing its historical designation, according to Rutishauser.
The committee reviewed the town’s objectives for owning the nonessential properties and came up with three: historical properties preservation, satisfying community needs (G&B Cultural Center, Teen Center), and providing affordable housing for town and school employees.
The committee also reviewed the rents received by the town and expenses associated with maintaining the properties, and weighed the pros and cons of whether town ownership was “that” important to the community.
The report noted that many Wilton historical residences are owned privately. Maintenance costs of historical properties are high due to age and old materials.
Recent surveys of Wilton residents for the upcoming Plan of Conservation and Development indicated they had a high degree of interest in preserving Wilton’s historic properties in order to preserve the town’s heritage.
According to the report, protection of existing historic structures not in an historic district and in private ownership is relatively weak, so the only way to ensure the preservation of these properties is if they either remain in town ownership or are sold on a deed-restricted basis.
“Once the properties are in private hands, the chance of preserving them is pretty weak,” said Rutishauser. “Once sold by the town, they are likely to get knocked down.”
Another issue the committee reviewed was property management. At present, Wilton’s Department of Public Works is managing most of these properties.
But DPW has a lot of other functions and responsibilities such as maintaining town roads, according to Rutishauser. He said these historic properties are low on DPW’s priority list.
The report recommends the selectmen consider turning management of the properties over to the Wilton Historical Society, and agreeing on a stipend to the society for this job.
DPW is also doing the record keeping for the properties, which Rutishauser said the committee found difficult to review because all the expenditures were being kept in a workfile. “Record keeping was thin and manual,” according to the report.
The report recommends the following record-keeping improvements:
Consolidating all information digitally.
Tracking each property’s revenue and expenses independently (the committee noted this has recently been done).
Have an annual monitoring and inspection program for all town-owned historical properties.
Allison Sanders co-director of the Wilton Historical Society said managing the properties was “an interesting idea.”
“The town has historic buildings that need to be more carefully preserved, and the Wilton Historical Society has a depth of knowledge in taking care of historic buildings, and we are landlords as well, with both commercial and residential tenants. It may be that we can work together in the future —but we won’t know until there is more information. While the idea has been floated around, there haven’t been any meetings to date,” she said.
The report gave an appraised/potential sale value for the following properties:
Center School/Town Green, $9.6 million, with a sales comparison value of $10.2 million.
49 Old Danbury Road, $348,000.
415 Danbury Road, $271,000.
Marvin Tavern, 405 A&B Danbury Road, $750,000.
7 New Street, $380,000.
31 New Street, $278,000.
The report notes there would be pros and cons if the town decides to sell any of the properties.
For some of them, the town would lose the rental income it currently gets. However, the town would gain revenue from some of the sales, would eliminate operating and capital expenses, and gain tax revenue when the properties are added back to the grand list.
Editor’s Note: This story was edited to add the comment by Allison Sanders of the Wilton Historical Society. The comment was received after the Bulletin’s publication date.