The 132-year-old Saugatuck swing bridge is a step closer toward enhancing its official historic recognition, part of preservationists’ campaign to block possible state plans to replace the span.
The Historic District Commission on Tuesday, by a 5-0 unanimous vote, supported the nomination to designate nearby areas, including Bridge Street from Compo Road South, as well as the entirety of the bridge, as a National Historic Register District.
"The neighborhood that borders this road includes 13 of Westport’s historical resources. This street has been home to many known Westport families — people known for their contributions to our communities history from civic leaders to civil employees," said the petitioner, long-time Westport school district teacher, Werner Liepolt.
The state-owned bridge, which carries Route 136 over the river, has several times over the years been at the center of fights over plans to repair or replace it.
Commission Chairman Francis Henkels, however, pointed out to Liepolt that residents within the proposed district have the opportunity to support or oppose the plan, and that one of the policies of the HDC is to "engage the other people who will be involved in it and seek support from other people who will be effected by the district." He asked Liepolt if he has a sense of how neighbors feel about the proposed designation.
Morley Boyd, a local preservationist who has vigorously argued in support of saving the bridge, said the policy Henkels mentioned is not something he has seen practiced by the HDC. "You just finished establishing a National Register District for the Westport center, my property is in it,” Boyd said. “I learned about it in the newspaper and, to my knowledge, I have never, ever heard of a policy where the establishment of a National Register District, but has no impact on private property, requires that the petitioner, in this case, come forward with a list of neighbors to see how they feel.”
“You just finished establishing a National Register District approved at the state level on September 21 you never asked anyone in the neighborhood,” Boyd continued. “I’m in the neighborhood and you just told this gentleman that it’s your policy.”
"I tend to agree with that with the exception of notification, which I take strong exception to the statement made about not being notified,” Henkels responded. Whether or not public announcements about a proposed historic designation are ignored, he added, “This organization always involves the people that are affected by any designation and I think it’s a good policy. It’s an important policy and we are required to do it.
"I would not support a designation that did not have the support of the homeowners affected. I think that would be bad policy," Henkels said.
Henkels, however, reiterated the HDC’s support for preservation of the swing bridge.