The search to reach balance between historic building preservation and economic development in several local towns has moved to the legislative arena, with lawmakers contemplating a bill to loosen restrictions on the demolition of vacant structures.
Raised Bill 1107, originally aimed at amending the term limits of board members sitting on the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, also includes a rider that would allow developers to raze historically-recognized buildings situated in the designated opportunity zones of four Connecticut towns designated “Distressed municipalities” with populations of fewer than 30,000 residents: Ansonia, New London, Putnam and Willimantic.
Though the bill’s language doesn’t specifically mention it, supporters and opponents of the proposal say the issue has direct roots to an ongoing effort by developers to tear down and build on property occupied by the Hooker Hotel and Nathan Hale buildings on Main Street in Willimantic.
“The danger is acute to the fate of historic buildings and has the potential of razing the downtown area.”De Smet said the proposed law could prompt developers to purchase historic buildings and wait out the 10-year clock.
“In a town like Windham, it can cost a developer twice the cost of demolition to rehab a building,” he said.
“We’ve tried for 40 years with various developers to fix the Hale and Hooker buildings and it hasn’t worked.”Rivers said the proposed law, which was moved favorably out the state Government Administration and Elections Committee, would not apply to projects where state and federal money is used.
“The hope is developing these vacant buildings will raise the values of adjacent historic properties.”Rivers said it’s all a matter of timing for potential developers.