Residents express mixed feelings about Honey Hill Road variance
Another Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) public hearing on the variance application for a front-yard setback of 16 feet and a rear-yard setback of 25 feet at Honey Hill Road is scheduled for Monday, June 20, 7:15 p.m., in Room A of the town hall annex.
Wilton community members have expressed favorable and opposing views about the application, which was submitted by local architect Kevin Quinlan and Honey Hill South LLC owner and historic commission member Peter Gaboriault in hopes of preserving parts of the 18th-Century Jackson-Nealy House.
The historic home was dismantled and removed from its original 211 Hurlbutt Street site and Gaboriault’s plan is to salvage and reuse the its antique windows and relocate its original timber frame to a 0.261-acre parcel of land across the street from 94 Honey Hill Road.
The area is zoned R-2A and zoning regulations require minimum yard space for a single-family home of 40 feet on the side and 50 feet in both the rear and the front. The variance application points out that the property depth is less than 100 feet, making it impossible to comply with front and rear yard setbacks.
Quail Ridge Road resident John Logan told The Bulletin he is opposed to the variance for several reasons. First, he said, Gaboriault argues that he’s trying to save a historic building, but that’s not actually the case.
“He’s not saving a historic building — he’s saving some windows and as far as I can tell, some interior structural boards, and that’s about it,” Logan told The Bulletin.
“Everything else has been salvaged and put away. So, we’re not saving a building — we’re saving some pieces of a building, which may or may not have historical value.”
About three or four years ago, Logan said, Gaboriault requested a waiver to do new construction on the same quarter-acre property, but withdrew the application due to the concerns of the neighborhood — “the same concerns that we’ve expressed this year,” said Logan.
“That tells me the concern over the historic pieces of the building are less important than putting something on that quarter-acre lot,” said Logan. “If we decide that he just wants to put something on that quarter-acre lot then we have to ask ourselves why.”
According to Logan, Gaboriault has “12 other acres right across the street from the quarter-acre lot,” “seven acres on the corner of Honey Hill and Mayapple,” and “about four or five acres” that neighbor Logan’s own 2.2-acre lot — enough room to save a historic building.
Logan said he believes Gaboriault chose the quarter-acre lot to build the house so that he can “set a precedent to have houses on quarter-acre lots in this community.”
With a quarter-acre precedent, Logan said, Gaboriault “can put up 48 houses on his 12 acres,” which he believes would “certainly detract from the property values.”
“To me, this is an indication of a successful guy that owns a construction company wanting to make money,” said Logan. “It’s OK for people to make money any way they can legally, but I feel they should not do it at the expense of the neighborhood.”
At the May 16 ZBA meeting, Gaboriault “expressed serious doubt that there would be any other similar lots in town for which the subject application could be cited as precedent,” according to the meeting minutes.
Logan is not the only resident opposed to the variance. In fact, he said, there isn’t a single neighbor on Quail Ridge, Mayapple or Honey Hill Roads that supports Gaboriault’s plan.
“His only support comes from the Wilton Historical Society, of which he is a board of trustees member,” said Logan, who, along with 15 other residents from Honey Hill, Mayapple and Quail Ridge roads, signed a March 19 letter explaining why they believe the ZBA should deny the variance request.
“The original intent of the land was parking — not construction and parking is the reasonable use of the land,” the letter states, and “the applicant was fully aware of the limitation of the parcel at the time of purchase.”
“Because the parcel was created by a predecessor in title when there were residential zoning laws in effect, any hardship for area or setback are self-created,” according to the letter, and “disappointment in the use of the property does not constitute exceptional difficulty or unusual hardship.”
The residents said they are also concerned that “a home on a parcel of that small size” would be out of harmony with the neighborhood and have a negative impact on their property values. If the ZBA is to grant the variance, the residents wrote, they ask that the board restrict the plan to a “more modest” one-story, one-bedroom cottage.
Thayer Pond Road resident Kim Hall is also opposed to the variance, and in a March 18 email to Town Planner Bob Nerney, she commended Gaboriault’s “interest in history and historical homes,” but said she does not support the granting of the variance.
“While I do not live near Honey Hill,” said Hall, “I do live in an area zoned for two-acre lots and think that supporting this proposal can create a slippery slope precedent of allowing a variance because it comes with a ‘good deed’ — even if it isn’t merited otherwise.”
Hall said the parcel of land “fails to meet the ‘hardship’ requirement necessary for a variance because it “clearly sits in a two-acre zone and is undeveloped.”
“I would not expect it to have the ‘value’ of a developed property,” she said. “Therefore, it would be incredibly difficult to claim ‘hardship’ other than the one that is self-created.”
If the variance is approved, Quinlan told The Bulletin, the main body of the 211 Hurlbutt Street house will be moved to “the small blank parcel of land on Honey Hill Road … and placed parallel to the street.”
Quinlan said a new addition would be built behind and “tee into the relocated house.”
It would be “a kitchen/family room addition with two bedrooms and a bath and laundry above,” he said, and “the 211 Hurlbutt Street portion of the overall house will become the entry hall and an office/study on the first floor, and a bedroom and bath on the second floor.”
Supporters of the plan include:
- Colleen Fawcett, chair of Historic District & Historic Property Commission;
- Leslie Nolan, Wilton Historical Society executive director;
- Joan Starr and Kim Mellin, Wilton Historical Society officers;
- Donna Harakas, Wilton Historical Society trustee.
In a March 16 letter to the ZBA, Nolan said although she has “no actual knowledge of the specific legalities of the [variance] application,” she does know that “as a community, we must do everything we can to preserve our town history.”
According to her March 20 email to Nerney, Mellin “strongly” supports Gaboriault’s effort to “save part of Wilton’s history and character.” She also said she has seen drawings of the proposed home and thinks it would be “a good addition” to the town.
In a March 21 letter to the ZBA, Harakas said “an important element of Wilton’s desirability” is its “rich history and the beautiful antique homes,” and that historical components help economic development — “whether it be attracting new residents to Wilton or inspiring homeowners … to invest in preserving these valuable and charming homes.”
“If we do not value the beauty, charm and historical significance of the [Jackson-Nealy House] house ... eventually, our town will lose its character,” said Harakas, who also cited the town’s Zoning Regulation 29-5.C.8, which emphasizes the preservation of historic and architecturally significant buildings.
The regulation recognizes that “the loss of historic and/or architecturally significant residential buildings through demolition, alteration or incompatible new construction is contrary to protecting the unique character of Wilton.”
“To this end,” the regulation states, “the Commission has adopted these provisions which allow flexibility and discretion when considering structural modifications to such buildings.”
Harakas said the Jackson-Nealy House certainly falls within the objective and purpose of the regulation. Built in 1730, it is one of Wilton’s oldest homes. The home is also listed in the 1989 Architectural Survey and was home to former Wilton First Selectman Andrew Jackson, Harakas noted.
“Losing the home to demolition would be tragic,” she wrote. “Not only would relocating the Jackson-Nealy House save an antique home, but it will enhance the character [of] our town, including the homes at Honey Hill Road.”
All correspondence regarding the variance application are available for the public to view in the Planning & Zoning office in the town hall annex.