WESTPORT, Conn. – A strong round of applause broke out in the Town Hall auditorium Tuesday night after Westport’s legislative body voted unanimously to overturn a Planning and Zoning Commission decision that would have resulted in the demolition of the historic Kemper Gunn House.
Built in 1855, the Queen Anne-style home is located at 35 Church Lane next to the Westport Weston Family Y, which will be transformed into a mixed-used complex as part of the Bedford Square project. Last month, the commission voted against a proposal to save the home from being demolished as part of the project by moving it from Church Lane to the Baldwin municipal parking lot on nearby Elm Street.
“If the house could speak, the Kemper Gunn House would say: ‘Let me keep standing. Let me be used. Let me serve your human needs and let me help you retain your humanity,’” resident Helen Martin Block said at Tuesday night’s Representative Town Meeting.
The Planning and Zoning Commission's decision was appealed to the RTM after a petition signed by more than 80 residents was submitted, asking the legislative body to review it.
Now that the RTM reversed the commission’s decision, the home will be moved— at no expense to the town— by Bedford Square Associates, the development group behind the Bedford Square project. The town will then retain ownership of the land and enter into a ground lease with a developer, which will restore the home and lease it for retail and office use—creating a revenue for the town.
In being moved to the Baldwin lot, some parking spaces will be lost— a reason why resident Roger Leifer said the move should not happen. Leifer, who said downtown Westport is already “choking” due to a lack of parking, was one of two residents who spoke against the relocation of the home.
The loss of some parking did not seem to be of major concern for the many others who spoke in favor of the proposal.
“It’s time for us stop to destroying our history,” RTM member Carla Rea, a native of Rome, Italy, told her colleagues. “You can have progress without changing anything.”
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