Historic commission tables request to demolish North Street house
Milford's City Historian Richard Platt said he understands that renovating an historic house on North Street might be overwhelming for the new owner, Bill Farrell, but Platt said that's Farrell's problem.
Farrell went before the Historic District Commission Tuesday to ask for permission to demolish the existing house at 111-113 North Street and build a new one using some of the materials from the historic 1790 house.
He brought some experts with him to help him prove the house is beyond repair.
Much of the inside of the house has been gutted, and main supports are being held up by jacks in the basement, Farrell said. The previous owner removed anything of historic value, such as wainscoting; the foundation is compromised, an impressive beehive fireplace cannot be used because it is not up to code, and the structure isn't safe, he said.
Farrell told the commission that he bought the house because he wanted to save it. The house was on the market for more than a year before the Milford man bought it for $150,000. He said it was bank owned at the time.
“My enthusiasm grossly overtook the reality of what I was facing,” he told the commission.
Raffaele Aschettino, a structural engineer, said termites and water damage have taken a toll on the house. Broken and rotting support beams would have to be replaced, as would nearly every part of the historic house, he said, adding that when the job was done, there wouldn't be much of the original house left anyway.
“You would have to replace every element or add another structure to each element,” Aschettino said.
“I think the house is beyond repair,” he said, predicting the city's building department would condemn the house.
Architect Ray Oliver has drawn up plans to replace the house with a new one that uses some of the original pieces and looks much like the existing structure.
There would be four dormers on the top, instead of the five there are now, and there would be two chimneys. Stones from the existing foundation would be placed around a new, concrete foundation. The new house would be slightly smaller than the existing one.
“The character of the property would stay pretty much the same,” Oliver said.
Oliver talked a bit about the history of the house, saying several additions were put on the original structure and at some point it was turned into a two-family house.
One neighbor said it has become a bit of a plague on the historic district in recent years as squatters lived inside and the yard was a mess.
Historic District Commission Chairman Robert Berchem said it is the commission's task to encourage preservation rather than replication.
Oliver said it is “regrettable” but he thinks preservation is not viable.
Farrell, who is second vice president of Milford's Historical Society, said quotes suggest it might cost $500,000 to $600,000 to fix the house, and about $350,000 to knock it down and build a new one.
City Historian Platt and former alderman Barbara Genovese opposed the plan. Genovese, vice president of Milford's Preservation Trust, said the house is a “rare find.” She compared it to the Cadley property on Old Field Lane, which was taken apart and rebuilt in 2007, angering city preservationists.
Platt said the North Street house, known as the Thomas Sanford/David Bristol house, is significant because of its architecture. It is a half gambrel, half saltbox with two large kitchen fireplaces.
“Any preservationist would say that no house is beyond restoration,” Platt said. “This can be fixed.”
“Mr. Farrell bought it and it's his problem,” Platt added.
Several neighbors said they worry that allowing Farrell to raze the structure will set a dangerous precedent in the historic district.
After deliberating, the commission voted to table the request and seek the advice of an outside structural engineer.