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Monday, June 2, 2008

Historic city structures get 2nd reprieve

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Two vacant, historic structures in the Trumbull Street area apparently have survived a second property owner’s attempt to demolish them and replace them with a new development.
Following a sometimes tense and testy meeting recently with the New Haven Historic District Commission, a representative of the owner and Gerald Kagan, the potential architect for the project, said they would report back with more information.
But a few days later, according to Trina Learned, vice chairwoman of the commission, the properties at 3 Trumbull St. and 714 State St. were put on the market for $1.095 million.
“I think the commission meeting gave them some pause and they thought it was too much trouble,” Learned said. “Our efforts worked; we’ve stopped an anonymous development from bulldozing two historic structures. That’s good for the preservation community.”
Last year, a similar scenario played out when the owner at that time appeared at a Connecticut Historical Commission meeting after the New Haven Historic District Commission recommended the state group look at the situation.
Learned said the owner was New Haven attorney Mark Sklarz. “The state Historical Commission pressed him about how he could tear down the properties if he didn’t have a viable plan (for using the properties). Days later, it was sold.”
According to files at the City Plan office, Sklarz wrote to state Historic Preservation Officer J. Paul Loether in January 2007, in which Sklarz touted “the benefit of the project.” On the first notice of intent to demolish, filed Nov. 13, 2006, the owner was listed as Jeber Realty.
The reason for demolition given at that time was “to allow for construction of a new five-story luxury condominium building.”
The most recent demolition notices posted at 3 Trumbull St. and 714 State St. were dated April 15. The notices announced: “This building is proposed to be demolished.” Because the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the demolitions automatically were subject to 90-day delays.
According to the file, the reason for demolition was: “The owner has done a renovation analysis for the building(s) and has determined that renovation is not economically feasible. The owner wishes to demolish and look for other viable development alternatives.”
The owner listed on the notices was 1 Trumbull LLC. The notice of intent to demolish, on file at City Plan, listed the owner as Gary Letendre of 1 Audubon St. When a reporter called the phone number on that notice, a recording said it was the Acorn Group. Letendre did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did Kagan.
Learned said the owner’s representative who attended the Historic District Commission meeting said he was there on behalf of the Acorn Group. She said he declined to tell them the property owner’s name.
Recalling the meeting, Learned said, “I, and other commissioners, found it disconcerting that many of our questions weren’t answered.” She said the commission took no action that night “because the applicant brought very little information.”
Noting the owner’s representative said at least one of the buildings had suffered significant damage from moldy conditions, Learned said, “I would argue it’s demolition by neglect.”
“When the commission pressed them on what would go in the buildings’ places,” Learned said, “they had no response.”
She added, “It’s inappropriate to simply bulldoze historic buildings without any viable replacement.”
Learned said the two buildings are important to “the historic continuity and scale” of Trumbull Street. She said 3 Trumbull St., a three-story brick structure, is “an elegant, beautiful 19th-century building.”
AShe also noted both buildings are part of what comprises the National Register Historic District.s for 714 State St., around the corner, afrom 3 Trumbull Stlso a three-story brick building, Learned said, “It has a bit of an orphan quality to it. But it’s a lovely building.”
Margaret Chisholm, a neighbor who admires the two buildings, was upset when she saw the demolition notices. Speaking of 3 Trumbull St., she said, “I always notice it because of its simple elegance. It’s important to preserve the real fabric of architectural history.”
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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