Support Local News.

Please support our work by subscribing today.

Shame on New London's Planning and Zoning commissioners

When I caught up with Laurie Deredita, vice chairwoman of New London's Historic District Commission, to learn more about how out-of-state developers ever got permission to build a hideous, five-story, prefabricated modular apartment building in the heart of the downtown National Register historic district, she told me she still hadn't recovered from last week's approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I've been licking my wounds all weekend," she told me Monday.

I know exactly how she feels.

When I saw the rendering of the new Bank Street building published in The Day, I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.

It's like they are going to rip a part of the soul out of Connecticut's finest downtown, a historic district of 19th century, whaling-era architecture that has survived remarkably well into the 21st century.

A lot of well-meaning citizens have tirelessly volunteered over the years to help keep it preserved.

I can't help but think of the recent efforts, coordinated by New London Landmarks, with a successful petition drive, that secured the help of statewide preservation organizations and the attorney general, leading to a Superior Court judge ordering a stop to the demolition of two small Bank Street buildings.

Several new restoration projects on important buildings are underway downtown, and those responsible developers have all pledged to respect the historical character of the downtown.

And then the city's Planning and Zoning Commission, turning a deaf ear to unanimous negative comments from the Historic District Commission members about the manufactured tower, approved it with a unanimous vote after little discussion.

It's like the tall and skinny new building, which will literally cast a shadow over the remarkable stone 1833-35 Custom House, will become a giant raised middle finger aimed at all those, volunteer preservationists and developers alike, who have respected and worked so hard to celebrate the city's rich architectural history over the years.

"It very much sets a precedent," Deredita told me. "It sort of tells people, 'why bother.'"

The board of New London Landmarks held an emergency meeting this week and pledged to look at how the city's approval process works.

"We have to find a way to prevent something like this from happening again," the board said in a statement.

The perpetrator of this assault on New London's rich historic character is a New York-based company called Vessel Technologies Inc., the creation of developer Neil Rubler, who claims his use of cheap manufacturing systems for housing will help ease homelessness.

Honestly, that's part of the pitch. I find it offensive to suggest that market-rate apartments in an ugly, prefabricated building on Bank Street are going to do anything except make Vessel Technologies money.

It is certainly isn't going to help New London's homeless.

Vessel's local pitch person was William Sweeney, the New London attorney who represented the owners of the Whaler's Inn in Mystic in their successful demolition a few years ago of a house on the Stonington side of downtown Mystic listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sweeney even convinced the New London Planning and Zoning Commission, before the Vessel project came to a vote, to change the zoning rules, so that new buildings on empty lots would not have to abide by rules requiring first-floor commercial space on the street.

Then they wheeled in their no-storefront building for Bank Street for its unanimous thumbs-up from the planning commissioners.

Mayor Michael Passero gave the commissioners a pat on the back in a story in The Day reporting on the December approval for a rule change made specifically at the request of the developer's lawyer.

Shame on them all.

Someone should tell New London officials that there's a housing boom going on around the country and there's no need for the city to be desperate and groveling before developers anymore.

"Uuuuuugly," was one of the typical reader comments on the story with the rendering of the new prefabricated building blessed by New London officialdom.

Wait till they see the actual product being assembled in the middle of one of the things that makes New London so special, a riverside streetscape from the golden age of whaling.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


Loading comments...
Hide Comments