Court agreement gives preservationists 67 days to find a buyer for Sanford-Bristol house

City Historian Richard Platt said he was pleased with an agreement reached this week that temporarily saves the historic Sanford-Bristol house from demolition. But he’s not ready to celebrate a victory.

“I’m not breaking out any champagne until after a deal is signed, sealed and delivered,” Platt said.

On Nov. 6, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milford Preservation Trust reached a settlement with the owners of the Sanford- Bristol house to prevent the house’s demolition.

Property owners William P. Farrell Sr. and Gwendolyn Farrell were present in Derby Superior Court Wednesday, as were residents of the historic district where the house is located, members of the Milford Preservation Trust and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, and other Milford residents interested in the matter.

The Farrells purchased the house and property on North Street overlooking the duck pond in January for $150,000. The house was in a state of disrepair, and they planned to restore it. However, William Farrell said the house turned out to need much more work than he’d imagined. The couple then decided to demolish it and build a more modern house on the property in the same style as the existing house, using some of the existing material.

In June a Milford Historic District Commission approved an application to demolish the house based on engineering reports that the structure was unsafe.

James F. Norden, principal at GNCB Consulting Engineers from Old Saybrook, performed a structural assessment of the house Nov. 4 on the court’s directive in preparation for this week’s hearing.

“The purpose was to ascertain the current condition and deficiencies and to document the structural framing,” the Trust said in a press release it issued this week. “Norden found that the condition of the Sanford-Bristol house is equal to historic houses of the same vintage. Typically houses from that time period suffer from deferred maintenance. Norden explained that the repair work needed in the house is straightforward and can be accomplished by a competent historic restoration contractor.”

The Farrells and the two Trust organizations negotiated and settled on a timeline that calls for a purchaser signing a contract to buy the house within seven days, then closing within 30 days. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation may step in and purchase the house if a buyer does not come forward in the first 30 days, according to the court agreement. Any purchaser would have to restore the house.

Helen Higgins, executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, said she doesn’t expect the Connecticut Trust will buy the house, but rather will work to find a buyer if the first 30 days passes with no deal.

“The Trust has taken the option to buy,” Higgins said. “We’re committed to finding a buyer, but we probably won’t buy the house ourselves.”

After 67 days, if no one buys the home the Farrells may demolish it. The asking price for the house is $200,000 -- cash only.

Both sides said they were pleased with the agreement.

Gwendolyn Farrell said the agreement is a “win, win for us. I’m thrilled.”

Judge Paul Matasavage said he was happy the two sides could work things out.

Over the past months, several people have expressed interest in the property, said Barbara Genovese, vice president of the Milford Preservation Trust.

Genovese said the Milford Trust will contact those parties and see if they want to make an offer. She is hopeful one of them will.

“The thing is, this is giving us another chance,” Genovese said.

Steve Belitz, who owns a restoration company in Glastonbury, was at court this week to offer testimony if it was needed. Belitz has a passion for historic buildings and has done many restorations. He said the house can be saved, and said it will likely cost $70,000 to $80,000 to make it structurally sound.

He couldn’t speculate on how much it would cost for interior repairs because restoration is up to the individual doing it. However, he agreed that $200,000 might be a reasonable estimate.

A previous owner took paneling, mantels and doors from the inside of the house, and Belitz said the person now in possession of that material is willing to donate it to whoever buys and restores the house.

Belitz toured the house four weeks ago and said much of it is sound, and that the structural work it needs “is standard work.”

“It’s a rare house,” Belitz said, adding that he is pleased with this week’s agreement to save it. He speculated that the house has a Dutch influence, and may have been built as early as 1760. He compared it to the Dyckman Farmhouse in Manhattan, a 1780s home now owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and preserved as a museum.

Of the Sanford-Bristol house, Belitz said, “I think it’s an important house. It’s the only one of its kind in Connecticut.”

City documents say the house was built in 1790.

Per the agreement, the following dates are key:

Nov. 13: the day on which a sales contract must be signed.

Dec. 13: the day on which a sale must be complete.

Jan. 12: if the first sale did not go through, the Connecticut Trust has until this date to arrange and complete a sale of the house.

Jan. 13: if the house has not been sold, the Sanford-Bristol house can be demolished on this day.