Wilton embarks on expanding historic preservation

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice emphasized at a tri-board meeting the surest way to grow Wilton's grand list is through economic development.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice emphasized at a tri-board meeting the surest way to grow Wilton’s grand list is through economic development.

Bryan Haeffele / Hearst Connecticut Media

The first steps of investigating ways to protect historic homes from the wrecking ball when commercial development takes place were taken by the Historic District and Historic Property Commission at its meeting on Thursday evening.

Chair Allison Sanders, vice chair Lisa Pojano, and members Gil Weatherly and Lori Fusco reviewed the possibility of recommending a consultant to assist with identifying ways to provide incentives to developers to keep and repurpose historic structures.

A request for proposals was sent July 2 to several firms and three responses were received and reviewed at the meeting on Aug. 15. The firms were Harriman of Boston, Goman + York of East Hartford, and Redniss & Mead of Stamford.

The RFP said the town is looking to hire a consultant to assist with “identifying potential tools” that would help preserve historic structures on commercial properties facing redevelopment.

The RFP outlined three priorities:

 Identify possible tax and zoning incentives which help protect locally important structures that are not on national or state registers during redevelopment.

 Present those findings at a meeting of the commission.

 Provide sample language for any ordinances or guidelines for the town.

The commission was originally intending to present a name for consideration to the Board of Selectmen next month, but it turned out none of the respondents provided in their proposals just what the commission was looking for. Instead, members decided to meet again on Aug. 22 and review a recommendation for the selectmen that the commission reach out to two of the respondents — Harriman and Goman + York — to refine their proposals.

One of the sticking points was the price-tag on the proposals. The commission was looking in the ballpark of under $15,000.

The Harriman bid came in at $5,000, but appears to be limited in scope.

The Goman + York proposal was attractive, but was over budget at $25,000.

At $20,000, the Redniss & Mead proposal was also over budget and did not appear to satisfy the commission’s needs.

Both the Harriman and Goman + York bids are under consideration and the commission would like more information from each of the vendors, Sanders said.

What will happen

Should the Board of Selectmen give the go-ahead to hire a consultant, the process would start with a meeting with the commission where there would be an opportunity for input and discussion of the project.

The chosen firm would research and review the town’s zoning regulations, historic preservation guidelines, and other land-use issues and projects such as the Plan of Conservation and Development. They would also interview town officials for further information if needed.

“They are going to look at whatever is reasonable four our town in our situation,” Sanders said.

At the end of the project, the commission expects to have draft language for an ordinance or guidelines it can pass along to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which will then take it under consideration. Sanders said she did not know how it would choose to work with it.

Before embarking on the RFP, Sanders spoke with people at the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and requested information on how to provide incentives for developers to save buildings that are not on the federal or state historic registers, which have certain protections in place.

“Is there something another town has done for buildings we consider locally important to our landscape,” she told The Bulletin that she asked. The answer was no. Sometimes there were limited efforts, but for what Wilton is looking to do, it is outside the bounds of work already done.

“There is nothing we can just pick up and use,” Sanders said, “and that made us realize we need some special effort on this.”