East Lyme resident forms petition to save 158-year-old property from demolition

East Lyme — Residents opposed to the demolition of two 158-year-old buildings on Boston Post Road are planning a protest and circulating a petition in an effort to save the property from being developed into a “national retail chain.”

Resident Debbie Jett Harris posted the petition online Friday morning, in what she explained to The Day as one of the first steps needed to express town opposition to demolishing “a piece of East Lyme’s history.”

“If we tear down all our historical homes, it takes away the quaintness of the town, but it also takes away the history of the town,” she said by phone. “The reason for saving this is to save the architectural footprint of our town. That (building) is our history.”

Jett Harris said she is also organizing a “peaceful protest” from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, for residents to join in showing their support to save the building. Jett Harris said she has not yet pinpointed the location of where the protest will take place but is working with town police to find an appropriate spot.

The property, which sits at 144 Boston Post Road, across from the Flanders Fire Station and East Lyme Pizza Restaurant, was most recently the home of the Nutmeggers Antiques shop until it was purchased for $250,000 last fall by Art Linares Jr., the former state senator in the 33rd District, from Jeffrey Kozlowski of Kozlowski Orthodontics.

The antiques shop has moved to 179 Boston Post Road in the town, which formerly housed Homecraft Country Store, according to its Facebook page, bit.ly/NAELFB. The Homecraft owners closed that store when they retired, Nutmeggers owner Len Hedwall said Friday by phone. He said he's happy in the new location.

According to Historic Properties Commission Chairwoman Barb Johnson Low, the main building at 144 Boston Post Road, which was once a large four-bedroom home, is a "historically accurate representation of Queen Anne period" architecture constructed in Flanders village throughout the late 19th century. The site also may have been home to the first schoolhouse in town, she said, after researching historical documents this week. There is no historic district in the town of East Lyme, she said.

The main building, which is listed on the town's historic house inventory as the "Flowers House," she said, also once was home to the Tytla family in the mid-20th century. The Tytlas owned a general store in the building that is now the East Lyme Pizza Restaurant.

Though the property is listed on the town's historic inventory register, it is not listed on the state's Register of Historic Places, according to Todd Levine, a historian with the state's historic preservation office. Levine said that though the property would not be eligible to be protected through the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act because it is not on the National Register of Historic Places, it may be eligible to be listed on the state's register.

"If the owner does go through a process confirming the building is eligible and even getting it listed, either at the state (level) or federal level, it opens the door for funding," Levine said. "You could be eligible for historic home tax credits or a commercial tax credit program. There is opportunity through funding to repurpose the building or find an adaptive reuse that would be compatible with keeping historic fabric in place."

Levine said the process to list a building on the state's register could move quickly — within weeks — depending on how fast a nomination can be written and submitted, but other options are possible.

"There might be an opportunity to incorporate the historic building into a new development, and because I don't know the new development, I couldn't say how that could work, but it's possible," Levine said. "We don't have the law on our side for the National Protection Act here because it is not listed. But what you do have is a historic building that may be eligible for listing that you have a lot of community care about seeing it preserved."

"There are ways this building could be incorporated into a development where the developers are able to make it incoming producing while still retaining the historic fabric. We see it happen all the time, but there has to be a will," Levine said. "What influence can the locals have on this new owner?"

Linares has sent out notices to abutting property owners about the upcoming demolition, the first step in obtaining a demolition permit from the town, but has not yet submitted an application for the permit with the town’s building official.

Now trying his hand in the development industry after recently forming his own company, Linares Land Capital, in 2018, Linares is working with his father, Art Linares Sr., he said. The company develops both residential and commercial properties for national retailers in Connecticut and other states on the East Coast. Linares said he recently developed a Party City and Subway on Boston Post Road in Orange.

Linares Jr. is also the co-founder of Greenskies, a Connecticut-based renewable energy company focusing on solar installations, that was acquired in December 2017 by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Clean Focus Yield Limited.

Though Linares said last week he could not yet identify the company moving to the property, renderings of the building filed with the town’s zoning department depict a Dollar General store. The national retail chain, according to its website, operates more than 12,000 stores in 43 states and is “growing every day.”

Jett Harris argued that because the town has a Demolition Delay Ordinance, passed in 2018, a property cannot be immediately torn down, buying time for residents to start a process to save the property.

According to the ordinance, the town’s Historic Properties Commission must be informed when a property on the town’s historic property inventory is proposed for demolition, thereby starting a 90-day waiting period before a listed structure can be demolished.

Jett Harris has not yet outlined how exactly the property might be saved but said Friday she was told by an anonymous source that there was another interested buyer in the property at the same time Linares purchased it, and hoped that same prospective buyer still might be interested in working out a deal with Linares.

Linares told The Day last week that his plan was to construct a new building on the property and continue to own it while a national retail chain leases the property.

Zoning Official Bill Mulholland, who has been working with Linares for the past couple of months on the building's architectural style and design, said that because the property is located in a commercial zone, Linares has the right to demolish the structure and develop the site for retail use, without additional zoning approvals.

Jett Harris said she hopes she can work with Linares to find a solution that would make everyone in town happy, especially as residents have spoken online against tearing the building down after The Day published the news earlier this week.

“I want Linares to know the town is humbling itself to him so he might reconsider this process,” Jett Harris said. The petition “is pretty much to beg at their feet and to ask them to please come up with another idea. There’s plenty of options, but we are hoping they will side with us and we want them to be part of the solution. We want everyone to know we don’t think they are the bad guys.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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