Protest opposing demolition of East Lyme property canceled

East Lyme — A protest scheduled Saturday to oppose the demolition of the historic Flowers House on Boston Post Road has been canceled after its organizer cited safety concerns after she said a threatening comment was made about the protest on a Facebook forum.

Resident and organizer Debbie Jett-Harris, who also spearheaded a petition last week in an effort to save the property from being developed into a “national retail chain,” said she has filed a complaint with East Lyme police.

Police Chief Mike Finkelstein said Wednesday that the subject of the complaint was being investigated by the department’s detective and, because of that, he could not offer other details. 

The perceived threat on the Facebook forum mentioned an explosive device but it was unclear whether the poster was directing the comment toward the historic property or the protesters.

Jett-Harris said that because of the amount of people she believed would attend the demonstration — upward of 200 — she didn’t want any possibility of someone being injured.

“I didn’t think it would be safe, and I didn’t want to put anyone in danger,” she said by phone Wednesday. “When I feel there is a threat, I do take it seriously. And chances are maybe nothing would have ever happened, but it could. I didn’t feel it was worth the possibility of someone getting hurt.”

The property Jett-Harris is trying to save sits at 144 Boston Post Road, across from the Flanders Fire Station and East Lyme Pizza Restaurant, and 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.

Linares submitted a demolition permit application to the town's building office Friday. He already has been in contact with members of the town's Historic Properties Commission and is allowing them to salvage valuable items from the building before it is demolished.

According to Commission Chairwoman Barb Johnson Low last week, 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.

Despite having to cancel the protest, Jett-Harris said she is taking the experience as a lesson and hopes now that because residents are energized, an effort will be made to register more historic properties on the town's list with the state so that a similar issue is less likely to happen in the future. Nearly 1,000 people have signed Jett-Harris' online petition opposing the building's demolition since it was posted Friday.

Meanwhile, she said she is still hopeful something can be done to save the house, though she said that decision will entirely fall on owner Linares.

Because the house is only listed on a town historic house inventory, and not on a state or federal register, Todd Levine, a historian with the state's historic preservation office, said last week that both the town and Linares are limited in what they can do to save the property. That could change, though, should Linares make an effort to list the property on the state's register, he said.  

The property also is not zoned as residential but sits within a commercial zone, meaning retail use is permitted there and does not require the developer to seek additional zoning approvals.

“I still want to reach out to Linares, because maybe there is a solution we can reach,” Jett-Harris said. “I’m very hopeful the new owners take into consideration the petition and the protest. I do want them to know the community doesn’t hate them, but we should have just been paying attention. Economic growth is very important, but we need to be more conscious of economic growth in town so that it doesn’t take away from our historic resources.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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