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Friday, February 23 News

Kemper-Gunn group starts planning move of historic house

An advisory group charged with overseeing the complicated regulatory process of relocating the historic Kemper-Gunn House from its current Church Lane site to a town-owned parking lot across the street held its first meeting Monday.

Members of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group convened in a Town Hall conference room to review the panel's objectives, set a timeline for various aspects of the relocation project and discuss some of the challenges that they may or the project face.

"This is a large project and it's not an easy project," said Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1.

Selectman Helen Garten said the advisory group, of which she is chairwoman, will serve as a clearing house of information for the public, town department heads and regulatory agencies throughout the project. Developer David Waldman, a principal of Bedford Square Associates, plans to start site preparations in July, which could take up to four weeks, and then move the late-19th-century house in early August.

The house is being moved to make way for part of the Bedford Square multi-use project, the main anchor of which will be built on the abutting property of the Westport Weston Family Y.

Dewey Loselle, chairman of the Downtown Steering Committee and a member of the newly formed group, called the Kemper-Gunn House move an "innovative and creative project" that brings with it new issues to solve, unusual questions to answer, and "no cookie-cutter formula to follow."

"There are a number of steps that have to be taken and approvals from different regulatory bodies. This is an unusual project so it's taking different thinking and actions," he said. Loselle said the advisory group will have oversight of approvals, permits and administrative actions related to the relocation "so the house is moved and not demolished."

Group members, as well as First Selectman Jim Marpe and Assistant Town Attorney Gail Kelly, talked about the loss of about 17 parking spaces in the Baldwin parking lot to make room for the house, as well as traffic flow and the width of Elm Street, fire truck and retail truck access to the area, historic designations for the building and the need for informal dialogue between the developer and the Historic District Commission through the process, and the permitting process.

Garten suggested some parking spaces could be recaptured with a reconfiguration of the parking lot.

A review of the building's lease in this public-private partnership will probably take the longest amount of time among the advisory group's tasks and responsibilities, Garten said. A draft of that document should be available by mid-May, and, according to the group's timeline, the lease should be reviewed in executive session by the Board of Finance on June 4 and acted on by the Board of Selectmen on July 9.

Garten called the Kemper-Gunn House relocation "a wonderful first step in the downtown plan."

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Waldman is expected to submit a new site plan map for the Bedford Square project to town officials this week. Three different town bodies will discuss the Bedford Square and Kemper-Gunn relocation projects at meetings next week. The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to meet April 23, while the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group's next meeting is set set later that day. The Planning and Zoning Commission meets on April 24 at which special permits and the site plan for relocating the structure will be discussed.

Also attending Monday's meeting was Steve Edwards, director of public works. Advisory group member Joseph Strickland, chairman of the Public Site and Building Committee, was unable to be there.