Can the town’s historic buildings co-exist with new development or are they destined for a giant trash bin?
That is a question the Wilton Historical Society would like to bring before the community in a forum planned for the fall. Virginia Benin, vice president of the Wilton Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, and Allison Sanders, co-director of the society, explained the plan to the Economic Development Commission at its meeting on June 12. The historical society would like the commission to co-sponsor it and provide a panelist to talk about economic development.
“Historic preservation is our bag, but we know it can’t happen in isolation and won’t happen unless it is somehow merged with other aspects of the town,” Benin said.
With updating of the Plan of Conservation and Development nearing completion, “we see Route 7 and Cannondale as places we need to think about and look at holistically. What do we want it to look like? What streetscape do we want?” she asked.
In seeking to discover how to preserve the town’s historic roots while moving forward with development, Benin said “it is important to start a dialogue about this and we felt you are the right people to work with us or provide a liaison to the panel.
The working title of the program is “Historic Preservation and Development — Friends or Foes? Smart Development = Preserving Character + Growing Wilton.” It is planned for Thursday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m., at the historical society.
“The historic homes along Route 7 are all in danger,” Benin said. “These are things we have to talk about. If we want to have them, we have to be willing to fight for them.”
Beyond its museum complex at 224 Danbury Road, the historical society preserves nine buildings in Lambert Corner on Route 7 that have been given over to adaptive use. That means the buildings are preserved, but they are being used as retail businesses, offices, or for other modern purposes. There are also three buildings at Cannon Corner, also along Route 7.
As landlords, “the historical society pays $50,000 in property taxes to Wilton,” Sanders said. “We rent to 14 tenants. Preservation does not have to be a burden.”
When developing a property with a historic building on it, it doesn’t have to be a matter of being stuck in a time warp or sending it to the scrap heap.
“It doesn’t have to be so black and white,” Sanders said. “With some incentives and discussion about what you can do with a historic building, it can become an interesting part of what [a developer] wants to do.”
Commission members did not make a commitment, but appeared interested in the program and said it would be on next month’s agenda.