Developer wants to demolish historic home

A legal notice printed in The Bulletin on Sept. 24 portends the demolition of the house and outbuildings that comprise the historic Schlichting Homestead, at 183 Ridgefield Road. The home was recently featured here and on WiltonBulletin.com when Dave Schlichting sold the property his family had lived in for 118 years to a developer whom he was under the impression would be restoring it, not tearing it down.
In addition to the legal notice, a sign was posted last week at the foot of the home’s driveway giving “notice of intent to demolish.” The Wilton Building Department requires that such a sign be erected immediately following the submission of a demolition application for a property more than 50 years old.

The Wilton Historic District Commission has been made aware of the developer’s intent. The commission has the power to delay the demolition for 90 days, and so will convene to discuss the matter on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m., in Old Town Hall on Ridgefield Road. Members of the community are invited and encouraged to attend.
“We as a commission feel that this house is extremely important to the history of Wilton. We have to vote officially with a quorum of commissioners, but my strong hunch is that we will be taking the position to delay,” said commission Chairman Kevin Quinlan. “The delay allows for us as a commission and as a larger community to try to find people or entities who might want to save the house.”
Schlichting was quoted in The Bulletin on Sept. 4 as having said, “Selling it didn’t make me happy. The house was in pretty bad shape when we inherited it, and we would have had to spend more money than we were willing to to keep it. We dodged buyers who wanted to tear it down for two years. Actually, we ended up settling for less money so that we could give it to this developer, who’s restoring the house and barn instead of demolishing them. He seems to want to keep it for himself.”
Indeed, Schlichting is upset with this new development. Contacted for comment, he said, “I guess there’s some people on the Wilton Patch that are all upset, but certainly no one could be more upset with it than me.
“If the place was to get demolished, that would be, I think, not only a devastating loss to us, but to the town, too, really. That’s one of the most noticeable historic landmarks in the town, and plus, it’s got a unique history that is not at all similar to other historical houses in town. It’s got its own unique story line; that would be a shame to lose all of that.
“The architecture — that style of construction was rare in its time, and now it’s almost gone. It’d be tragic to lose that, too.
“The soul of this town that attracted people here is that it had all these historically significant places. I’ve been here 60 years, and I’ve seen stuff disappear. You’re going to get to a certain point when so much is gone that the flavor that has attracted people to this town will be gone.
“A lot of things can be demolished and not have that great an impact on the town’s overall appearance, but that place is a little bit more than just unique. It’s a landmark, and when people drive by, they expect to see it there.
“If this does happen, it’ll be a really sad day for me, because I was there from growing up all the way to the present, and I have some pretty happy memories over there. Some great Thanksgiving dinners on that old wood stove,” Schlichting lamented.

False pretense?


According to Schlichting, it was never set in writing that the developer would not demolish the buildings.
“I really didn’t want to tie his hands up too much if there were changes he wanted to make, or if, in fact, that it was just an astronomical problem to try to save (the buildings), so I did not seek anything in legal format on that,” he said.
However, according to Schlichting, there was at the least some level of understanding between the two parties that the buildings would be salvaged and restored.
“The real estate people I dealt with thought he originally wanted to as well,” said Schlichting, “and I have to believe that he did. That kind of plan wasn’t coming together for him, so he had to go another route, which didn’t include the house and the barn.”
“I know pretty much that he had some hopeful intention,” Schlichting said.

The developer


The developer is James A. Fieber, CEO of Fieber Group, LLC. in New Canaan.
A letter that Fieber was required by the Building Department to send to the adjoining property owners of 183 Ridgefield Road said, “I have recently purchased the property at 183 Ridgefield Road — the Schlichting parcel. In accordance with the requirements of the Town of Wilton, the purpose of this letter is to inform you, as an adjoining property owner, of my plans to demolish the house and the two outbuildings located on the parcel. Please do not hesitate to contact me at (phone number) should you have any questions.”
The Bulletin attempted and failed to reach Fieber for a statement.

Letters


Two Wilton residents wrote letters to Chief Building Official Robert Root expressing their disapproval of the application.
Victoria Boies Mavis of Ridgefield Road wrote, “… As a neighbor living only two houses north of this important property steeped in Wilton history dating back to the mid-1850s, I am shocked and dismayed to note the plan posted this past week on a sign by a developer to raze all ‘existing buildings’ on the property which would comprise the Schlichting house, barn and other outbuildings.
“Designed in the Victorian Italianate villa style, the Schlichting house has been called ‘one of the finest examples of this style’ of architecture by town historian and former Wilton Selectman Robert Russell. ( Wilton Bulletin, 9/4/2015) He also cites the fact that this is one of only three houses of its kind remaining in Wilton today. …
“While I can only imagine how shocked and saddened the Schlichtings must feel, I do know that a vital part of Wilton’s history will be forever lost if this is allowed to happen. …”
Kathryn Buis of Deer Run Road wrote, “… The house — over 150 years old — should be considered an historical building and restored. The property — over 13 acres — abutting Hillside Cemetery is beautiful. Understanding the barn is in bad shape, and the home is a smaller house in need of much work, I believe the house at a minimum could be restored with time and effort — perhaps by volunteers in our community.
“While growth, and therefore increases in new buildings, are a natural part of any town, I would like to think that our community is proud of its history and look to preserve it, even if it costs money, time or effort. Preserving one of the last remaining parcels of this size with the house for future generations to tour and be able to enjoy would be a positive step forward.”

Can Wilton do something?


Schlichting would surely entertain an attempt from the Wilton community to save the house and barn. In fact, he is willing to contribute his own money to the effort, if one should arise.
“I’d sure like to see an attempt to prevent this from happening. Maybe something like they did with Ambler Farm. Maybe the funding would help the developer offset the cost of the restoration, something I would hope to be done. I really haven’t had a chance to talk to the developer to see if there’s anything he’d be game for.
“It would be great if it could go the Ambler route, whether a group formed and the town helped out as a member of the group, whether they purchase the building and three acres, or work with the developer to make the numbers come together for him. Anything — I’ll take anything.
“It could make kind of a cool museum for the town. It’s certainly too bad that the furniture and everything’s gone to the four winds, but I still have all the portraits of the family that could go right back in there if it got restored.
“I talked with my sister and both of us would love to put some money up to save the thing, and hopefully something can come off the ground for that,” Schlichting said.
He is hopeful that the developer, whom he believes is just doing his job, would be willing to cooperate with the residents of the town in an effort to stop the demolition.
“I don’t think he’s a mean man. I’m sure he might work with some people that might want to throw a little something together and try to collectively save the place,” Schlichting said.