WESTPORT, Conn. — The fight to save Westport’s historic Kemper Gunn House from the wrecking ball isn’t over, thanks to a group of more than 80 Westport residents who have signed a petition urging the Representative Town Meeting to intervene.
At its Sept. 19 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted against a proposal that would save the Queen Anne-style home from demolition by moving it from 35 Church Lane to the Baldwin parking lot on nearby Elm Street. The commission’s decision came as a surprise, as public support for the proposal was overwhelming.
The petition, submitted Friday with 88 signatures, asks the RTM to reverse the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision and approve the relocation of the home. The RTM is the town’s legislative body.
“As the commission’s stated reasons for the negative report are plainly unburdened by the facts surrounding the matter, I feel that the residents of the town of Westport have not been well served in this instance,” lead petitioner Morley Boyd wrote in his letter to the RTM.
Built in 1855, the Kemper Gunn House sits adjacent to the Westport Weston Family Y’s downtown facility. It is slated to be torn as part of the Bedford Square project, in which the Y and Church Lane will be transformed into a mixed-used complex.
Bedford Square Associates, the developers behind the Bedford Square project, offered to move the home to the Baldwin parking lot at no cost to the town. It was also proposed that the town retain ownership of the land and enter into a ground lease with a developer, which would have restored the home and leased it for retail and office use.
“Moving the house has so many advantages,” said RTM member Matt Mandell. “Besides saving it, keeping it right near where it always has been is just the start. It preserves downtown character, creates retail diversity with mom and pop shops, re-establishes Elm Street as a walkable and enticing road, and it brings in revenue to the town.”
Mandell, a major proponent of saving the house, said he is pleased that residents haven’t given up on the home.
“This is not about what the P&Z did wrong— it’s about what we can, as a town, that is right,” he said.
The RTM will review the relocation proposal at a special Oct. 22 meeting, Moderator Eileen Flug said Monday.
Westport developer and Bedford Square partner David Waldman said he is looking forward to having the RTM review the proposal.
"I do believe the house has a chance to be saved and hope the RTM will overturn the P&Z so we can show the town boards just how wonderful the house will look fronting the parking lot," said Waldman, adding that he is not surprised residents are fighting to save the home. "In the end, I hope the residents help push this through."