standing Stonington Town Hall

STONINGTON — A committee that advises the town on the implementation of its Plan of Conservation and Development supported the idea Tuesday of forming a town historical advocacy committee that would evaluate the impact of development on historic and archaeological resources.

Forming the committee would help accomplish one of First Selectman Rob Simmons’ implementation priorities: to “review regulations for identifying and protecting archaeological resources and update as needed,” as stated in Section 7.32 of the plan.

The idea was broached by Michael Schefers, an implementation committee member, who is also president of the Stonington Historical Society. He recommended that Liz Wood, executive director of the society, chair the committee, and said members of other historical groups would be encouraged to join.

The committee would consider matters such as a demolition ordinance as it relates to historic structures, said Schefers. 

Jason Vincent, director of planning for the town, told the committee that flood plain problems and other issues lead developers to demolish buildings, and that the town has taken steps to remove those barriers to reinvestment.

On Aug. 8, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to exempt historic buildings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s substantial improvement requirements that have limited improvements on buildings in the flood hazard zone to 50 percent of the structures' assessed value during a municipality’s look-back period, which is one year in Stonington.

“Demolition is a symptom, it’s not the disease,” Vincent said. “In Mystic, one of the issues we kept hearing from development and investment community and property owners was that the flood plain regulations was one of the barriers.”

Stuart Schwartzstein, a committee member, said it was important to work with the developers’ concerns as well as the historic issues. “If you buy a building and you need it for certain purposes, you want to be able to use it for those functions.”

Vincent said the key was to “keep looking at the disease, not the symptoms” and to create additional historic preservation tools hand-in-hand with incentives for developers.

If the town passed a demolition-delay ordinance without taking steps such as adopting a tax abatement program for historic buildings, it wouldn't go far enough, Vincent said. “If you want really  historic buildings to be saved, then incentivize people to save them.”

The POCD Implementation Committee will meet next on March 18.

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