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Officials raise concerns about elevator addition to Kemper-Gunn House

The historic Kemper-Gunn House may get an elevator after it is moved to make way for the Bedford Square project, but members of the Historic District Commission/Architectural Review Board Joint Committee wondered Tuesday if downtown visitors would get the visual shaft.

During the public hearing no one on the committee or in the audience objected to the proposed addition of an elevator and stair tower on the 19th century house, which currently sits on Church Lane but will be relocated to the Elm Street parking when construction of the Bedford project begins later this year on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y.

Several panel members, however, did voice concerns to developer David Waldman and architect Frederick Hoag about the height and mass of the tower, a small portion of which rises above the natural roofline of the house in the current design. Hoag said he cannot fit the elevator under the existing gable.

HDC Chairman Francis Henkels asked if the elevator had to access all levels, from the basement to the third floor.

Waldman responded that they don't want to be short-sighted about access.

ARB member John Halper said the height and mass are not the issue for him, calling it a "cool design." His objection was to the architectural appropriateness of adding such a structure to the house built in 1891.

"It needs to calm down and be just a stair tower. It's too busy for me. It's screaming," he said. Halper asked if Waldman and Hoag studied any other articulation for the tower.

"Ad nauseam ... It needs to be celebrated rather than hidden behind something," Waldman said.

ARB member Ward French disagreed. "I think we're supposed to be celebrating the house and minimizing the impact (of additions). That's a significant wall on the back," he said.

George Masumian, ARB chairman, called it "very dominant." "I think what you're attempting is necessary," he said, however, he suggested the elevator stop at the second floor and that the top floor be marketed as a third floor walk-up office rather than retail space. That would limit the height of the tower, he noted.

Henkels agreed with Waldman and Hoag that there should be some distinction between old and new, adding that he sees parallels with the addition to National Hall, but he asked if they could come up with a more modest approach that is more referential to the building's exterior.

"There is always a middle ground. We're here to listen and learn," said Waldman, who shared other plans with the joint committee. "We're going to try to be respectful of the (exterior) period details." Waldman said the goal is to replicate the facade using new materials but to create the look that existed as they were in 1891. That includes the siding material, gutters, types of windows and sashes.

Hoag said it will be "renovation with restoration in mind."

"I'm just grateful we're here having this conversation given what could have happened," said HDC Vice Chairman Betsy Wacker, referring to the fact that the Kemper-Gunn House was spared demolition by the Bedford Square developers. Read Full Article 

Waldman said the tower would be erected after the house is moved to its new site at 35 Elm St. Waldman and Hoag showed committee members 3-D computerized images of the house to demonstrate their plans for the tower and other exterior renovations.

Because the meeting was considered an informal work session to review the exterior modifications, the HDC/ARB Joint Committee will not report its discussion to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

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