How does Danbury balance growth with historical and cultural character?

DANBURY – The city has a myriad of historic properties which add to its character.

The challenge, officials said, is how to use these properties to support the city’s future as Danbury grows.

“Danbury’s growth is almost inevitable,” said Brigid Guertin, executive director of the Danbury Museum and Historical Society. “It’s a wonderful thing, it’s a positive thing. So how do we reconcile this with historic assets, so that historic assets do not become a burden on the community or an expense line on the budget, but in turn support the growth of our Danbury community? “

The conversation was part of a virtual meeting on Tuesday between city leaders developing Danbury’s 10-year master plan, more officially known as the Conservation and Development Plan. The aim was to see how Danbury’s historical and cultural resources should play into the city’s long-term goals.

“It’s a very important part of Danbury as a place, as part of its history and therefore must be part of its future,” said Francisco Gomes, senior project manager at FHI Studio, the company that helps the city in his plan. “Therefore, we have to be really proactive in planning to provide as much support as possible to the preservation effort, and the (master plan) and various other mechanisms are a great way to do that. “

The city likely needs to set up an entity that delves into Danbury’s cultural and historical assets, Guertin said. Besides properties already considered historic, she said she was concerned about the future of around 30 other assets with unique architectural or historical backgrounds.

“We are on the precipice,” Guertin said.

Danbury should focus on acquiring properties that add value and can be tailored to meet the needs of the community, she said. After all, one day the city hall will be too small and cultural organizations will become too big for their spaces, she said.

“It’s really not just about saving this stuff,” Guertin said. “It’s about preserving other assets within the community that thrive in these buildings. “

Some historic structures have modern uses. These include the P. Robinson Fur Cutting Company, which has been converted into condominiums, and the Tarrywile Mansion, which is used for events and offices in the 722-acre park.

The Ball and Roller Bearing Company represents the city’s manufacturing history and is used for offices and a church. The 1896 Locust Avenue School, home of the Alternative Center for Excellence, is one of the few 19th-century schools still operating in the state. The old Main Street Library, opened in 1878, houses the Danbury Music Center.

Meanwhile, the city is still figuring out what to do with Hearthstone Castle, which was built in the late 19th century and which crews cleaned up last year. Danbury officials are studying how to finance the restoration of the Octagon House, which the city bought in 2015.

Eleven properties across Danbury are on the National Register of Historic Places, while other properties are on the State Historic Register, according to a presentation given to the planning committee.

The city has a historic Main Street district that stretches from Elm Street to 34 Main Street. Some properties outside the streets perpendicular to Main Street are part of the neighborhood, which had 132 properties, including 97 properties of historical or architectural significance when the neighborhood was added to the National Register in 1983.

Paul Rotello, Minority Leader of City Council, noted that it was difficult to fund projects to protect historic structures, like Hearthstone Castle.

The city needs to do a better job of showcasing the value of its historic sites, as well as cultural and social organizations, he said. These assets could inspire companies to come to Danbury, he said.

“Because we’re not just an airport, highway, or community 100 miles from New York City,” Rotello said. “But we have our own in-house museums, performance centers and cultural artifacts that executives often seek out, not only for themselves when they move here, but as a way to sell the move to their employees and their families. employees. “


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