The Day – Join the Campaign: Save Downing Cottage

I had some interesting responses to a recent column about the Groton Historic District Commission’s 3-2 vote to allow the new owners of the 1835 Downing Cottage at 17 Gravel St. in Mystic to tear it down.

Among them were some long-awaited missives about the folly of saving old buildings.

But, overwhelmingly, readers I’ve heard of were amazed that a commission charged with preserving historic buildings in Mystic — a neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places — agreed to allow owners of the one of these buildings to tear it down and replace it. with a brand new mansion, with swimming pool and guest house.

I’ve heard sentiments of preservation from elected leaders, concerned neighbours, a best-selling author and even someone who knows the inside of Downing Cottage well and has noticed its good old bones.

My most encouraging conversation was with Jane Montanaro, executive director of Preservation Connecticut, a private, nonprofit organization that, as part of its mission, provides assistance to local communities to help protect historic character and assets.

Montanaro, when I caught up with her on Friday, told me she had read the column on 17 Gravel St. and was planning to meet with officials from the State Historic Preservation Office on Monday to discuss the vote of demolition authorization from the Groton Commission, which is subject to a 90-day period during which appeal may be made to the Superior Court.

Preservation Connecticut in 2018 helped New London Landmarks save two buildings on Bank Street in the city, a process that involved the intervention of the State Historic Preservation Council, which concluded that the buildings on Bank Street were protected natural resources and requested the Attorney General to go to court. to stop the demolition.

Then Attorney General George Jepsen effectively obtained a court order restraining the destruction of the buildings.

Montanaro said Monday’s discussion of Downing Cottage will consider whether a process similar to that used successfully in New London could be rolled out for 17 Gravel St.

The organization also offers training for local historic district commissions and that might be appropriate in this case, she said.

There was no evidence presented before the Groton commission that there was anything structural at 17 Gravel St. that would require its demolition.

Instead, the owner and his architect, Bill Bertsche of Old Mystic, said they want to demolish the building because it is in a flood zone and would either need to be raised higher than its existing foundation or renovations, in accordance with the flood regulations, be limited to spending half the value of the building each year for five years.

It’s the dangerous precedent that the demolition permit would set for the rest of the historic district which is in a flood-prone area that has many readers I’ve heard of worried.

One criterion that Preservation Connecticut would consider before intervening would be community sentiment.

To better understand this sentiment, The Day will be conducting a survey, attached to this column on theday.com, asking readers if they support efforts to save Downing Cottage and prevent it from being demolished.

So here’s a chance for anyone interested in preserving an iconic riverside building in Mystic, which appears in many photos of the historic village, to have their say. Talk to like-minded friends.

Save Downing Cottage. The call timer is running.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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