Milford Preservation Trust files injunction to save Sanford-Bristol house

A backhoe stands in front of the Sanford-Bristol house on North Street, its engine quiet because of an injunction filed last week to stop demolition of the historic house.

Attorney Philip Walker, representing the Milford Preservation Trust, filed a complaint Oct. 9 in Milford Superior Court against property owners William and Gwendolyn Farrell. The Farrells plan to demolish the 220-year-old house and build a similar one in its place, but the Preservation Trust, and a number of other people in Milford, hopes they won’t do that.

The Sanford-Bristol house “is a contributing structure to and within the Milford Historic District #1, a municipal historic district, and the River Park Historic District, a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Place,” according to the complaint filed by the Trust.

A hearing is scheduled in Milford Superior Court Oct. 28 at 9:30 a.m., at which a judge is expected to begin determining if the Trust can permanently halt demolition. Walker said he expects the process will include several hearings.

Battle has been brewing over the historic downtown house for months, ever since the Farrells asked permission to knock it down.

The couple hasn’t owned the house that long. They bought it for $150,000 in January after it had been on the market for some time. When they bought it, the historic house was more than a handyman’s special: It needed a lot of work. The Farrells said they thought they could restore it, but then learned it needed more work than was economically practical.

Only eight years ago, the house was in relatively good condition, according to a previous owner, Kathy Lutz. The Sanford/Bristol house, built in 1790, was structurally sound when she and her husband owned it through 2005, Lutz said, outlining a number of upgrades they did on the house.

According to city records, Richard Wincapaw bought the house from the Lutzes for $445,000 in 2005, but filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

At that point, people who toured the house because it was for sale said it was in horrible condition inside: Walls were torn out, floors were missing and there was a jack holding up the ceiling on the main floor.

City Historian Richard Platt, who has been one of the key movers and shakers behind preserving the house, said he understands the Farrells may be in a tough spot, but he said it’s their own problem: They bought a house is a historic district. Furthermore, William Farrell serves as an officer on the city’s Historical Society, and therefore understood the implications of buying a house in a historic district, Platt and others have argued.

Regardless, a city historic district commission gave the Farrells the okay to demolish the house after reviewing the structure and deeming it to be structurally unsound.

A 90-day demolition delay order kept the house standing temporarily, but that delay expired Oct. 13.

By filing a complaint with the superior court, the Milford Preservation Trust hopes for a permanent order stopping the Farrells from demolishing or removing any part of the house at 111-113 North Street, “regardless of whether a demolition permit has been issued by the building official of the Town of Milford,” the complaint states.

Anyone could have filed the complaint to stop demolition of the house because of its presence on the National Register of Historic Places, Walker said.

The Connecticut Environmental Protection Act applies to historic structures, the attorney noted.

“A public trust exists in the air, water and other natural resources of the State of Connecticut, including historic structures, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes,” he wrote in the court documents he filed last week.

One local resident said a backhoe appeared at the Sanford-Bristol house early this week ready to start demolition. But a Preservation Trust member with copies of the injunction showed them to the driver, and he shut off his machine, the resident said.

Midweek, the backhoe still stood silent in front of the historic house.