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Judge blocks demolition of historic Bank Street buildings

New London — Historic preservationists celebrated a victory on Thursday with a judge's ruling that blocks the planned demolition of two Bank Street buildings.

New London Superior Court Judge Joseph Koletsky, in a brief and succinct ruling from the bench, said the state had proved its case and “there exists reasonable and prudent alternatives” to the demolition of 116 Bank St. and 130 Bank St.

The ruling bars property owner Bill Cornish from demolishing the structures and brings to a close a campaign started nearly a year ago by New London Landmarks to gather support for the preservation of the structures, which are part of a downtown historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The local campaign and petition drive led to support from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and intervention from the attorney general’s office, which acted as the plaintiffs in the case.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the Court’s decision,” New London Landmarks’ Executive Director Laura Natusch said in a statement.

“From the beginning of our year-long campaign to save these two buildings, it was clear that the public cares passionately about Bank Street’s historic character. Fortunately, Connecticut’s Environmental Protection Act protects historic buildings like these, recognizing their value to the public,” she said.

Preservationists argue the demolition would alter the character of the downtown and based their legal argument on the state Environmental Protection Act, which protects certain structures from “unreasonable destruction.”

Natusch had testified at the hearing that the buildings along Bank Street are the “embodiment of our maritime heritage.”

New London Landmarks, New London Main Street, the New London Maritime Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all had supported the state’s case and claimed Cornish was offered an ample number of financially feasible alternatives to demolition.

Cornish, who had planned to raze the buildings and combine the two adjacent properties to build one larger structure with up to 20 apartments, said the cost of the alternatives, even with historic tax credits, was out of reach.

He also continues to argue that the long-vacant 130 Bank St. suffers from rotting timbers and severe lack of maintenance that has led to structural instability.

“I’m still reeling from the fact the judge thinks this building is repairable,” Cornish said after the ruling.

He has argued in the past that there is little in the way of historic character left in the 116 Bank St. building, which has vinyl siding and is the former home to an adult book and video store. Recently renovated, it is now home to the New London Ink tattoo shop.

The two buildings will remain on the market and “maybe the state or one of these historical organizations will buy, but I’m not putting any more money into it,” Cornish said.

Natusch said there is still a desire to work with Cornish on the rehab of the buildings.

“Looking ahead, we want both buildings to not only remain standing, but also to be fully occupied and productive. Fortunately, we now have a road map for how both buildings can be profitably rehabilitated, and we would be happy to help Mr. Cornish or any future owner do exactly that,” she said.

Cornish said it remains unclear to him if there is a means to an appeal but for the time being he plans to “take a step back and move on to my next project.”


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