Historic citation for Waveny Park on hold, again
"We have been a steward of that property since that gift was made and been so protective of every single thing we've done there," Councilman Steve Karl said at the Nov. 19 meeting, "that to have any kind of outside influence or anybody telling us in anyway, even if we didn't take any money or if we took money ... If that was ever held as a chip to let us not do something, it would really be a very difficult situation."
His statement stems from the fact that the historic listing triggers a review process with the National Park Service when a significant renovation or construction is planned. The New Canaan Preservation Alliance, which is sponsoring the nomination, sees that review process as a benefit, since it would ensure historic preservation.
The review, however, would be necessary only if there are federal funds attached to the property, according to the National Park Service website.
NCPA President Rose Long has said joining the register would make the property eligible for grants to fund major capital improvements and that "there are no strings" attached to the status. 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.
The majority of Town Council members, however, was still not convinced the listing was a good idea.
Councilman Penny Young listed a number of questions she said still "need to be clarified and spelled out before moving forward." She said, for instance, that it's not clear what requirements the designation carries, to whom the NCPA reports and what the extent of the alliance's authority and control is.
Additionally, Young and other Town Council members were concerned about what parts of the park would be nominated and where their boundaries lie. During the discussion, they considered nominating only one of the park's five parcels to the register. Parcel C, which some members suggested, includes Waveny House, Carriage Barn Arts Center, Powerhouse Theater, surrounding gardens and the great lawn.
Town Council member Roger Williams said it's "somewhat suspicious" that there do not seem to be any downsides to the proposal. He also asked Long to come back with maps so that the panel can visualize which parcels should be listed. "I honestly don't know what parcel C is," Williams said.
The proposal had won wide support from residents and officials during a public hearing earlier this month and has been endorsed by the Park and Recreation Commission. The council had also tabled the vote in July, when the NCPA first suggested a nomination only for Waveny House.
Waveny Park includes the planned landscape of the first resident, Thomas Hall, and later of the second family, Lewis Lapham and his children, as an "American Country Place." 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.
Both the actor and New Canaan resident Paul Simon wrote letters to the council this month expressing support for the nomination.
Councilman Joe Paladino, in defense of the proposal, said the goal of the register is to support efforts to protect historic resources.
"This is nothing more than a designation," he said. "If you do not accept federal money, there are no restrictions."
Long said the register would be "incredibly helpful" to secure funds to preserve the park and work on a number of issues the NCPA has identified on the property. Some of the projects the organization is planning for Waveny House, for instance, include flooring renovations, cleaning the fireplace in the Great Hall, and other projects to make the facility ADA compliant.
Similar Fairfield County properties on the list are the Galagher Estate's Cranbury Park in Norwalk, Lounsbury House in Ridgefield, the Old Town Hall in Greenwich and the DCA Meadowlands in Darien.
In Connecticut, a listing on the national register automatically puts the building on the State Register of Historic Places as well.
Another attempt to vote on the proposal is expected to take place at the council's Dec. 17 meeting.
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