WESTPORT, Conn. — Is saving an historic house from demolition worth losing some parking spaces in downtown Westport? That’s the question Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission is faced with as it considers a proposal to relocate the Kemper Gunn House on Church Lane to the nearby municipal parking lot on Elm Street.
The Queen Anne-style home, built circa 1855, is currently at 35 Church Lane, next to the Westport Weston Family Y. If the home is not moved, it will be demolished as part of the Bedford Square project — which will transform the Y into a mixed-use complex.
“This is a house that helps define the unique New England character of Westport,” Republican First Selectman candidate Jim Marpe told the commission on Thursday night. “The character of the town isn’t diminished in one bold stroke — it comes in small increments. I think by allowing this relocation, you can prevent one of those small, incremental attacks on our town’s character.”
The Kemper Gunn House is one of two buildings at 35 Church Lane. Under the Bedford Square project, approved last month by the commission, a portion of the Y and both buildings at 35 Church will need to be removed to make way for four new buildings.
In an effort to save the home, Bedford Square Associates — the developers behind the Bedford Square project — is offering to relocate the home to the Baldwin lot, at no cost to the town. The group has also offered to pay for the home’s new foundation to be constructed, if moved.
As part of the proposal, the town would retain ownership of the land and enter into a ground lease with a developer, who would take ownership of the home at no cost and restore it. Then, the home would leased for retail and office use.
“It’s going to bring some revenues to the town, which is clearly desirable,” Representative Town Meeting member Don Bergmann told the commission.
Aside from the financial benefit for the town, Democratic First Selectman candidate Helen Garten spoke about the possibility of attracting more mom and pop stores downtown.
“This offers a unique opportunity to offer space in downtown Westport to businesses that ordinarily can’t afford main street rents,” she said. “This proposal is an exciting start to the effort of designing the downtown of our future, a downtown that’s vital and diverse, but that in part honors our past.”
If the house is moved to the Baldwin lot, however, there would be a loss of approximately 17 parking spaces. This issue raised concern with resident Roger Liefer — the only resident who spoke against the proposal.
Liefer, who owns property downtown, said parking in is already scarce downtown. To lose parking spaces would worsen the situation.
“This is only place that’s convenient to downtown where a parking structure in the future can take place,” said Liefer. “If you approve this project, in my opinion you'll be exacerbating an already terrible problem that needs a solution, and will be cutting off future alternatives for parking there."
The commission did not vote on the proposal, but has until Sept. 30 to make a decision.