Local organizations try to save historic Valley Road house
NEW CANAAN — Local historical and preservationist groups are racing against the clock to save a historic house from the wrecking ball.
The countdown began March 1 when the town’s Historical Review Committee unanimously voted on a 90-day delay on the demolition application filed with the New Canaan Building Department in February for the bright red “Grupe-Nichols-Browne House,” 1124 Valley Road.
The house and the four-acre terrain on which it is located are the property of one of the taxing districts in Norwalk, specifically the First Taxing District. It, in turn, presides over the First District Water Department, serving more than 40,000 residents in Norwalk and small areas of New Canaan, Wilton and Westport, as well as to businesses in those areas. Among its holdings is Grupes Reservoir, which backs up against 1124 Valley Road.
The New Canaan Land Trust, along with other local nonprofits like the New Canaan Historical Society, the Preservation Alliance and the Conservation Commission, have banded together in an effort to to preserve the land and the house by purchasing it from the First Taxing District. The only problem: the asking price.
“One big thing to do is to convince the First District Water Department not to demolish the house and secondly to agree to a fair market price on the property in order to fundraise to save the house and the property,” Chris Schipper, a board member of the New Canaan Land Trust, said. The four-acre property is located next to the 10-acre Browne Wildlife Sanctuary, which belongs to the New Canaan Land Trust and also abuts Grupes Reservoir.
The property was purchased by Norwalk’s First Taxing District for $2.25 million in 2006, according to tax assessor records. In 2016, the assessed value amounted to $1.1 million.
Schipper said an independent appraiser hired on behalf of the New Canaan Land Trust put the value at $1.2 million. The external-only inspection was completed in July 2017.
The First Taxing District’s attorney, James Fulton, however, said the appraised value Schipper mentioned is “irrelevant” to the First Taxing District.
“If people don’t want to pay a premium for the property, we’re very happy to keep the property for the next 100 years,” said Fulton, who is the trustee of 1124 Valley Road. “The number I would recommend to my client is of $2 million for the property and we’re taking a slight loss at that.”
Executive Director of the New Canaan Historical Society Nancy Geary emphasized the house’s historic and cultural importance to the town.
“It’s not only a historic house, but the cultural history of the town, and that’s why there’s been an outpouring of support for the house,” Geary said. “There are not many houses like these left and this a very historic town and people recognize that it’s worth protecting.”
According to Geary, the house is what adds major value to the property. “If they demolish the house, they’re losing a lot of value,” she said. “If First District really wants to sell it, then we are the perfect buyer and we should be working on meeting a price.”
Schipper agrees and the New Canaan Land Trust is spearheading efforts to negotiate with the First Taxing District.
“I think there’s a broad effort of people who care about the history and scenic beauty of the property and it would be a shame for First District to let this house be torn down,” Schipper said. “We would like to see this land saved from development. It’s a piece of New Canaan history and a landmark.”
According to a report paid for by the New Canaan Land Trust on the history of 1124 Valley Road, the house is of Georgian-style and has been modified at least three times since its construction in 1805.
“The home at 1124 Valley Road is significant to the history of New Canaan and Norwalk because of the people who once owned the property, some of whom lived within its walls,” the report concludes.