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Told no more deals on Kemper-Gunn House lease, P&Z gives its OK

Photo by Anne M. Amato

Planning & Zoning Commission members, from left, Alan Hodge, Alfred Gratrix and Chip Stephens, commission chairman, listen to further testimony concerning the lease for the Kemper-Gunn house relocation during Thursday night's meeting. The lease was approved in a 4-2-1 vote with members Hodge, Jack Whittle, David Lessing and Andra Vebellin favor, Gratrix and Cathy Walsh opposed and Stephens abstaining.

Despite the Planning and Zoning Commission's split vote Thursday in favor of a lease agreement for his plan to relocate the historic Kemper-Gunn House to a town parking lot, David Waldman said Friday that he and his partners are pleased.

"It was a long, collaborative effort," Waldman said, adding that although he would have preferred a unanimous vote, he realizes his plan to move the house from its current location on Church Lane to the town-owned Baldwin parking lot on Elm Street was a "certainly a concept divided in certain ways."

But, he added, Thursday night's 4-2 vote with one abstention is "really a positive thing." The P&Z members' vote was Jack Whittle, David Lessing, Andra Vebell and Alan Hodge in favor; Alfred Gratrix and Cathy Walsh opposed, and Chairman Chip Stephens abstained.

Next, he said, the proposal will go before the selectmen and finance boards Aug. 13. The Board of Finance recently gave the lease conditional approval.

Once he gets the remaining permit in hand, Waldman said construction of a new foundation will begin for the house, which he said could be moved to the new location by mid-November.

"That's the goal," he said Friday.

The Queen Anne-style house was facing demolition to make way for the Bedford Square multi-use complex that Waldman and his partners plan to build on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y. However, Waldman agreed to save the structure under a scenario calling for its relocation to a section of the Baldwin lot, where it will be renovated for commercial rentals.

The house was literally saved from the wrecking ball last October when the Representative Town Meeting, in a unanimous vote, overturned a 4-2 vote by the Planning and Zoning Commission that rejected the proposed move. New members were elected to the P&Z in the municipal election the following month.

Questions were raised by P&Z members last week about details of the proposed 98-year lease agreement between the town, which will be the landlord, and DC Kemper-Gunn LLC, the tenant. Waldman is the project developer.

Selectman Helen Garten, who heads the town's Kemper-Gunn House Advisory Committee, Thursday night presented the revised lease to the commission, but some issues remained.

"I'm concerned about the assignment clause," said Stephens. That's a clause that deals with a transfer of the lease to another party. "This has bothered me all along," he added. "Obviously you are concerned about this, too," he said to Garten.

"What's your feedback? Can you go back for one more shot," he asked her.

She said the Kemper-Gunn House "would be torn down" if she did. "We have reached the end of the line," she told the commission.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom said town officials went back to negotiate with the developers after the last meeting "and got some concessions." But, he added, "This is as far as they will go." Read Full Article 

Waldman said Friday his team will begin looking for tenants now that the lease has been approved.

Anne M. Amato

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