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Council seeks public input on Waveny House status

Published 10:21 am, Wednesday, July 23, 2014
  • The New Canaan Preservation Alliance would like to apply to have Waveny House listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / New Canaan News Contributed
    The New Canaan Preservation Alliance would like to apply to have Waveny House listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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Claiming the public needs more information, the Town Council tabled a vote July 16 on allowing the New Canaan Preservation Alliance to apply for Waveny House to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The council was concerned that by gaining such status, the town would be prohibited from making future changes or enhancements to the facility.

"I think that any time that you take matching funds or grants, they do want to make sure that there's a certain level of historic integrity and they actually will give you guidelines," Councilman Joe Paladino said.

NCPA President Rose Long said joining the register would make the building eligible for grants to fund major capital improvements and that "there are no strings" attached to the new status.

"While listing on the National Register of Historical Places is largely ceremonial, it does increase the recognition of areas of historic relevance and it encourages preservation," she said.

In Connecticut, a listing on the national register automatically puts the building on the State Register of Historic Places as well.

Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert said a vote at that meeting would be "a little premature."

"The reality is that when we deal with a treasure like Waveny House, the public needs time to digest things," he said.

Walbert suggested the council's Land Use and Recreation Subcommittee "take a very detailed look" at the pros and cons of having Waveny House on the registers. The Town Council asked the NCPA to conduct a public hearing in September, when most residents should be back from vacation, before returning to the council.

"This is a building that has many watchable eyes on it," Paladino said. "Taking some thoughtful comments from those people who are so very passionate about Waveny is really critical."

Steve Karl said Waveny Park "probably is the number one thing that we have in town" and anything that may affect its future should be looked into closely.

"I don't want you to think that we're not enthusiastic," he told Long. "(But) if we do make it historic, does it tie our hands in any way?"

Long, who's an architect, said she has successfully applied for historic buildings in other towns and states to be listed on the national register and "never ran into a problem."

"Being on any sort of historical register does not mean the person who owns it can't do their thing," Long said. "You can do anything you want to it. You can take half of it off."

She noted, however, that although registers can't stop potential modifications, a building may lose its historic status depending on the scale of the changes. One example, she noted, was Town Hall, which had just been listed on the Connecticut state register before construction started last year. After nearly half of the building was demolished, it was removed from the list, she said.

The National Register of Historic Places does not require that properties be maintained, repaired or restored and does not force projects to be stopped, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

"For us, it just seems like a win-win," Long said.

From a federal perspective, "a property owner can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no federal monies attached to the property," according to the national register's website.

Councilman Penny Young said the application should include all Waveny Park facilities, such as the Carriage Barn and Lapham Community Center, and not "single one out over the others."

Long said the alliance recently started a committee made up of architects and engineers to look into potential improvements at Waveny Park as a whole and decided to apply to submit one application at a time. The team is also looking into increasing Waveny House's handicapped accessibility and possibly adding an elevator.

Waveny House was built in 1912 for the Lewis Lapham family. In August 1967, the town purchased the whole park from Ruth Lapham Lloyd, mother of actor Christopher Lloyd, who grew up in Waveny House. The first floor of the building features a grand hall, a library, a sitting room, a dining room, a billiard room, a patio and a commercial kitchen. The second floor has four rooms that are used for meetings and conferences.

Mimi Findlay, an NCPA board member, said she supports one application for the whole park, but she said that doing so "would be a more expensive nomination."

The Waveny House application would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 and the process would take about three to six months, according to Long, who added that the NCPA will fund such costs.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson