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Is Historic Main Street Worth Protecting?



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To the Editor:

I ask the fundamental question… how much is it worth to protect historic Main Street? Presently, the owner of the Main Street Inn at Newtown has employed a high profile Hartford lawyer to push a 79 apartment unit on the historic Mary Hawley property (the historic structure will be razed). The owner claims he is not a developer and this is his last resort; however, when informed that a nonprofit type entity might be interested in purchasing the property his asking price went up. Note, sale for less than market price to a nonprofit type constitutes a tax credit contribution. The owner claims Borough zoning and the Historic District have no say in his development. The Borough's involvement in historic properties is not unprecedented as it occurred with the sale of the Diocese Castle Hill properties. The Borough and the Forest Association worked together and a special assessment was suggested. Negotiations resulted in the preservation of the property. Thank you, Draper family.

The Borough tax has historically ranged from 0.75 to 1.50 mill rate. During my last ten years, as warden, I have worked to keep the mill rate at the historically low 0.75-0.86 levels. Now we are at a one-time unique situation… how much is it worth to protect historic Main Street? To the average Borough taxpayer, the cost will be an added $100. No doubt, in protecting Main Street we need everyone's help, but it has always been the heightened vigilance of our Borough and all boroughs around the state that provide longstanding historic preservation (Litchfield, North Stonington, Bantam, Woodmont, Jewett City, Fenwick, Danielson, Old Saybrook, etc) as opposed to historic Stepney Village in Monroe…lost, gone, commercialized, downtown historic Milford… lost, gone... downtown Trumbull, lost, gone.

After consultation with Borough Counsel Monte Frank, it is estimated that litigation costs could exceed $300,000. Statutory interpretation suggests a Historic District does have an express say in such a project. Unfortunately, there is no case law on the matter. Also, the unique historical aspect of a location can play a significant role in such proposed developments. Presently, there is no rendering of the 79-unit apartment complex.

Of note, the Borough is also incurring fees in defending the Lake Property Zoning appeal. We have not had such litigation for a number of years.

In short, in order to address the Main Street issues the Borough special assessment tax and additional attorneys' fees are essential. If they go unused, next year the Borough budget will be reduced by the same amount. The questions are simple… Is Main Street Worth Protecting? If so, shall we be prepared?

The Borough budget says yes. What do you think?

If you are a resident of the Borough, please come vote and share your opinion on May 8, at 7:30 pm, at Edmond Town Hall.

Thank you.

Jim Gaston,

Warden, Borough of Newtown

18 Main Street, Newtown         May 1, 2018

Comments are open. Be civil.

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