Historical homes in need of new location

FREE: 14 fine, old homes in New Haven County. These houses, presently owned by the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority or RWA, are being given away. There's a catch, of course. These houses, some of which feature historical significance from our past, cannot stay where they are. Once purchased, the houses must be moved from their present location. Although a buyer might be getting a deal on the building, he would then have to incur the expense of moving the house and of acquiring land to accommodate it. Since the response from the public has been less than impressive, the RWA is threatening to demolish these houses.

Several years ago, the RWA determined that it was no longer cost effective to maintain homes on water property. For years, RWA had sustained these homes as rental property. Since the homes are older, a host of maintenance issues have surfaced. To further complicate matters, according to the RWA, the buildings are contaminated with both asbestos and lead. Concerned about the mounting costs, the RWA has chosen to divest itself of the houses.

The expense to move a house and to purchase land makes the acquisition of one of these homes prohibitively expensive. In an effort to save these structures from the wrecking ball, several different compromises have been proposed. One solution that seems useful is to sell the parcel of RWA land along with the house, eliminating the expense of arranging to move the house. The RWA has steadfastly refused to consider selling any watershed land, insisting that it is against their philosophy. According to Claire Bennitt, chair of the RWA five member board, "The RWA is not in the business of selling Class I or Class II (watershed) land."

Bennitt said that if no one steps forward to buy the houses, "It is likely that they are going to be demolished."

Time is running out for these homes. Recently, the RWA initiated its demolition plan at one of its properties. The house at 785 Foxon Road in North Branford has been razed.

Of the remaining houses, four are located in Woodbridge, while one each is situated in Bethany and Orange. Other towns with RWA houses slated for demolition include Hamden, Madison, Guilford and North Branford.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization dedicated to the protection of the state's historic resources, hired three architectural historians to document the historic and architectural significance of all water property houses to determine their inherent historical value. That evaluation was based on historical features and physical integrity. The following list includes the houses and their respective rankings:

Most Important 501 Derby Avenue, Orange

Ives House, 95 Ives Street, Hamden

105 North Street, North Branford

1115 Great Hill Road, Guilford

714 Foxon Road, North Branford

Highly Important 184 Downs Road, Bethany

2040 Litchfield Turnpike, Woodbridge

1955 Litchfield Turnpike, Woodbridge

79 Great Hill Road, North Branford

Important 1029 Johnson Road, Woodbridge

115 Sperry Road, Woodbridge

752 Summer Hill Road, Madison

83 Great Hill Road, North Branford

Moderately Important 440 Amity Road Bethany (not available)

785 Foxon Road, North Branford (no longer available)

233 Skiff Street, Hamden

The Connecticut Trust maintains that the plan to demolish these structures is in violation of the RWA's Land Use Plan. This plan, approved in 1996, was formulated to "(P)rotect outstanding natural and historical features."

In fact, that document specifically mentions both the house at 2040 Litchfield Turnpike, Woodbridge and at 184 Downs Road, Bethany in terms of preservation interests, saying "These structures will be preserved to the extent it is feasible and prudent."

Helen Higgins, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust, said the Woodbridge houses were considered eligible as contributing resources in a National Registry of Historic Places, as well. She declared, "We continue to oppose the destruction of the houses."

Presently, the five member RWA Board is preparing recommendations to present to the Representative Policy Board or RPB of the RWA about the disposition of these houses. The RPB is composed of appointees from each town serviced by the RWA, along with an appointee by the governor. The recommendations from these town representatives will guide the ultimate decision of the RWA.

While the RWA deliberates, the houses remain vacant. Nancy Polk, a concerned neighbor on Litchfied Turnpike in Woodbridge, lamented this, saying that the lack of maintenance is tantamount to "demolition by neglect."