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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Planned demolition of Waterford home now before attorney general

    A rendering of the new home proposed for 80 Shore road in Waterford. Rendering by Nina Cuccio Peck.

    Waterford ― With little more than two weeks left until the Marelli family is granted a demolition permit that would allow it to raze the nationally recognized historic Nichols Farmhouse/William H. Putnam house, a state preservation council has voted to send the matter to the state attorney general’s office for review.

    The attorney general’s office said Thursday it will now begin its review into whether alternatives to demolishing the historic home exist, with the potential of seeking an injunction “to prevent the unreasonable destruction of a historic structure or landmark.”

    Robert J. Marelli Jr., founder and president of Waterford-based sheet metal fabricators Seconn Fabrication, and Susan S. Marelli purchased the 3.7-acre property at 80 Shore Road in June for $1,275,000, according to town records. The original Greek revival structure, which has had several additions over the years, was listed as a contributing structure to the Hartford Colony Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

    “It's the land that we fell in love with. We didn't care about the house,” Marelli Jr. told a group of lawyers, preservationists and members of the State Historic Preservation Council, as they gathered virtually for a special meeting to discuss the demolition Wednesday.

    He added that he has made it known since he first visited the property in April he intended to demolish it.

    One of Marelli’s attorneys, Chelsea McCallum, echoed that the family had been vocal from the beginning about its intent to demolish the home and had been told by several town officials there were no barriers to demolition.

    However, the town delayed the demolition for 30 days after neighbors sent letters to the town’s building department. The demolition delay expires Nov. 26.

    “We do believe that the house will probably be demolished shortly thereafter,” Brad Schide, of nonprofit Preservation Connecticut said during the State Historic Preservation Council’s virtual meeting on Wednesday.

    Preservation CT and neighbor Domitilla Enders ― whose family has lived in the historic district for many generations ― along with other neighbors who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, attended the meeting to support the involvement of the attorney general to prevent the “unreasonable destruction” of the house, Schide said.

    At the meeting, the only question before the council was whether or not it would ask Attorney General William Tong to intervene and review the demolition.

    The council decided demolition was unreasonable in the context of the state’s environmental protection laws, which maintain that if a “feasible and prudent alternative to destruction” for the historic structure exists, the council must forward it to the attorney general for further review, Andy Horowitz, council member and Connecticut State Historian, said.

    The council’s decision was based on information about the property including the national register listing, letters in support and opposition to demolition, online petition signatures, and a letter from the owners’ architects ― which included a rendering for the proposed new home ― and presentations given at the virtual meeting, according to Todd Levine, staff liaison of the State Historic Preservation Office.

    The attorney general’s office said Thursday it is aware of the council vote and has received the referral and materials from the State Historic Preservation Council.

    “We will now begin our own independent investigation and review, which will include discussions with relevant stakeholders to identify potential reasonable alternatives to demolition,” said Elizabeth Benton, chief of communications and policy for the attorney general’s office.

    “Prior to commencing any potential injunction action, the State Historic Preservation Review Board would also have to determine that the structure contributes to the significance of its historic district,” she added.

    What will the State Historic Preservation Review Board look at?

    The board Benton mentioned, which is separate from the Historic Preservation Council, is an advisory group to the State Historic Preservation Office. It meets quarterly, with its next meeting scheduled for Dec. 1.

    Whereas the vote before the Historic Preservation Council was whether or not there was a reasonable alternative to demolition of the home, the State Historic Preservation Review Board will look into the current historical value of the home, with attention toward its contribution to the surrounding Hartford Colony Historic District.

    At Wednesday’s meeting, the Marellis’ attorneys and architect raised the point several times that the house had already been “desecrated” by the construction of additions, particularly a barn and garage.

    But preservationists argued the additions were already there in 2005 when the property reached historic register status. The Marellis countered that other additions were constructed later.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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