BEACON FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Commission last week drove the final nail into the coffin of the historic home that sits on a town-owned plot on Wolfe Avenue. The commission voted unanimously to demolish the home and clear the way for the eventual construction of a new building.
An exploratory committee charged with exploring the feasibility of the home’s adaptive reuse made the same recommendation a month ago, and the Board of Selectmen then accepted it by a 2-1 margin.
The planning commission’s vote, town officials said, was the final step in approving a plan to level the home and eventually build a new library and community center there. That plan, according to an architectural study that was unveiled earlier this year, will cost an estimated $3.9 million. Renovating the home and building an addition to accommodate municipal use would have cost an estimated $4.2 million.
Republican Selectman Michael Krenesky, who is also the town historian, has long advocated the preservation of the house with respect to its purported historical value; it was once the summer home of Tracey Lewis, an industrial leader in the early 20th century.
Krenesky felt the commission’s decision was too hasty, saying its members voted the way they did to concur with the exploratory committee’s earlier recommendations without reviewing the architect’s report in full.
“My frustration was that we spent a lot of time putting all this documentation together, and then in the final decision from planning and zoning, they never even opened the book,” he said this week.
Planning and zoning chairman Kevin McDuffie could not be reached for comment. First Selectman Sue Cable countered by noting, “I don’t feel it’s been a rush. I feel we’ve been sitting on this property for far too long.”
Cable—who, along with fellow Democrat Dominic Sorrentino, approved the building’s demolition prior to the zoning board’s vote—said demolition is the most economically feasible option, adding that the town never had any intention of preserving the house for historical value when the Wolfe Avenue property was purchased in August 2008.
“No matter what we do with that property it’s going to be expensive,” she said. “This is the cheaper way to go at this point. We need to put some hard work into using whatever we can from the building to help defray the cost, and also look at how we’re going to handle the expenses of everything.”
Krenesky felt the approximate, estimated $300,000 difference between demolition and preservation wasn’t significant enough to justify the decision to demolish what he sees as a historically significant cultural artifact.
“There was effectively a $300,000 difference between putting up a building and keeping the house versus putting up a standalone building,” he said. “When you’re talking about a $4 million project, whichever way you want to round the numbers up or round the numbers down, $300,000 is a small number as a difference.”
The town will need to find sources of funding for the demolition of the home, the design of a new municipal building and its subsequent construction. Officials said the town would tap all available state and federal funding sources for the $3.9 million it expects the project will end up costing.
“When it comes down to dollars, we go to referendum on any building project, and with or without the house, there are going to be a lot of people who are pro and against spending this kind of money,” Krenesky said. “I will always look back at this as not the right decision, but at the same time we have to look forward and move forward. It’s a double-edged sword and you make your choices and you move on.”
Cable said the town would hold an informational session for residents with questions or concerns about the Wolfe Avenue property and the project.
“While I think history’s great, the bottom line is Beacon Falls has to start looking at the growth down the road,” she said. “This is now giving us the next chapter to work on that growth, and I’m actually very excited about it. … People have made their opinions, and we’ll have an informational meeting. We’re always listening.”