Montville planning centers on church
Montville - Volunteers, town employees and elected officials with a focus on economic development are turning to the town's history for some guidance on ways to enhance business opportunities here.
Several town groups have been mulling over various ideas that could highlight some of the town's more historic properties and structures as a way to attract businesses and improve quality of life.
Central to the effort is the preservation of the Montville Center Congregational Church at the corner of Raymond Hill Road and Meetinghouse Lane.
The church, founded in 1772 as a grant to the inhabitants of North Parish of New London, is the "linchpin" of the town Plan of Conservation and Development's proposal to create a cultural and historic corridor within the town. It represents the historic center of town and sits alongside Raymond Library.
Monday night, town historian Jon Chase spoke to the economic development commission for more than an hour, detailing the history of the church, its significance and how its preservation could benefit the town culturally and economically.
Despite its relevance, the status of the building - originally a town meetinghouse - has been in limbo for years.
Several years ago the congregational church put the property up for sale. Any transaction was quickly suspended when people questioned whether the property that had been deeded to the inhabitants of the area could be sold.
With church parishioners having already moved elsewhere, the current building, built in the 1840s, has been left idle, with the congregation completing occasional maintenance on the structure, according to town officials.
Over the past several months, public, private and church officials have been discussing ways to maintain the structure and keep it in the public domain.
A town council subcommittee has discussed creating historic district commissions to oversee certain properties. The planning and zoning commission could consider creating a new village district overlay zone that could be used to provide incentives within the zone for historic preservation.
The economic development commission has considered creating a walking or driving tour of the town's culturally significant sites.
When each of these concepts is discussed, inevitably the Montville Center church is referenced.
Chase and Town Planner Marcia Vlaun told the commission that if ongoing discussions are successful, there is a chance that the town could be in charge of the property's care within 30 to 60 days.
For this reason, a special group should be created to take over the building's management and care to ensure its preservation and to discuss ways to use the site, such as a municipal museum or for community meetings.
For resident Lynn Nelson, who attended the commission's meeting, such a possibility is reassuring.
"It hurts me to see that so many buildings in town are being lost," he told the committee at the end of its meeting.
Chase added that the church's preservation could be used as a "means of fostering community pride."
"Not everyone is a historian or interested in this subject, but if we can create something that is perceived as one that everyone can be proud of, it will benefit the town," Chase said.
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