Proposed Ordinance Would Help Preserve Easton’s Historic Structures

For more than half a century, the Historical Society of Easton has been warning town officials that Easton’s historic homes and farm structures need to be protected from demolition.

“Prior members of our (historical society) board had approached the town about this but had consistently met with resistance from various town boards and commissions,” said Bruce Nelson, the director of research at the Historical Society of Easton.

Now the historical society is one step closer to getting the town to adopt an ordinance that would help protect Easton’s historic structures from the wrecking ball.

At the March 17 Board of Selectmen meeting, Nelson and historical society curator Elizabeth Boyce presented the board with a draft Demolition Delay Ordinance that would help protect any home or structure included in the “Index to Historic Homes in Easton” that has been held by the town since 1998 and was commissioned by the state.

The selectmen approved the draft ordinance with some changes, and it will be included on the agenda of the annual town meeting on April 25. If the ordinance meets little or no objections, it could pass with a citizen voice vote, making it unnecessary to bring it to a town-wide machine vote in May.

If adopted, the ordinance will not necessarily stop demolition, but would trigger a 90-day waiting period before a town building official grants an applicant a permit to demolish a structure listed in the “Index to Historic Homes in Easton.” An Historical Review Committee would be established to discuss alternatives to demolition with the property owner, the ordinance states.

“The main benefits of this ordinance will be the ability to photograph and record historical buildings before they are gone forever; to work with property owners to salvage certain rare components that can be reused in other restoration projects; and to educate both the property owners and the public about the history of the property,” Nelson said.

The historic 1790-1800 Baldwin House was razed in 2012. Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society of Easton

The last time the society’s index was updated before 2022 was in 1998, and during that time Easton lost about 20 historic homes.  Among the homes lost was the 1790-1800 Baldwin House, which was razed when the Randall’s Farm Nature Preserve was established in 2012.  To qualify for a state grant, the historic home needed to be removed per rules established by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Given those requirements and Easton’s lack of a Demolition Delay Ordinance at the time, the (Baldwin) house was simply demolished to meet the requirements of receiving a grant to establish the preserve.,” Nelson said. “The delay would have afforded historians the opportunity to photograph the house and its unique architectural features prior to demolition.”

Boyce, who is helping to preserve and digitize Easton’s historic documents and photographs, said the delay would also allow for architectural elements such as old wood, glass, and metal hardware to be preserved.

During Boyce’s portion of the presentation delivered to the board of selectmen, she said the ordinance aims is to find an alternative to demolition. It is not a prohibition, she said. The society sought input of local historians and local archeologists as well as guidance by Preservation Connecticut, a non-profit group whose mission is to preserve and protect buildings, sites, and landscapes across the state, according to Boyce.

The historical society has been trying to get the town to approve a Demolition Delay Ordinance since the society’s founding in 1968. Boyce said such an ordinance is needed now more than ever because of the increased demand for houses in Easton, the interest among younger and newer residents in preserving the town’s historical nature, and to work with property owners to dispel ideas that a preservation ordinance is a burdensome process.

“If we succeed, Easton will be the 60th out of Connecticut’s 169 towns to adopt this type of protective legislation,” Boyce said.

Many neighboring towns have implemented similar ordinances in recent years. Nearby Redding passed a Demolition Delay Ordinance in 2013.

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