Six architects told the Groton Town Council Tuesday that the Historic District Commission has become an “elitist” group that makes unreasonable demands on property owners, costing them thousands of dollars, and the commissioners should be asked to resign.
The architects, including two past commissioners and two authors of the architectural guidelines for the town of Stonington, said in a 5-page letter that they banded together even though they compete because the Groton commission is imposing “severe financial and psychological hardship on district property owners.”
In one case, the architects said the commission refused to approve work on a house, causing a sale to fall through and the bank to foreclose on the property owner.
In another case, a homeowner mistakenly changed the pitch of a garage roof, the letter said. Although the owner provided historic precedent to allow such a roof, the commission ordered it removed and rebuilt, the architects said.
Commission members did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The architects suggested that the council seek a legal opinion about whether it can decertify the historic district, or consider repealing the ordinance that created the commission.
“They have never been challenged,” said Bill Bertsche, an architect who read portions of the letter. “There are (commission) members that have been on there 15 or 18 years. They write their own rules.”
Town Councilor Deborah Peruzzotti said the council has received complaints before, but Tuesday's letter was unusual.
“When you have five or six architects who are refusing to even work with them, that’s pretty serious,” she said, adding, “People are not even going to want to do anything in this town the way these commissions are working.”
The architects said the commission treats the district as “a museum,” sometimes refusing any changes to buildings. Real estate agents have said owning a historic district property can be a liability in terms of value, the letter said.
The letter also said commissioners display an elitist attitude, “stating openly and to our clients that ‘not everyone is suited to live in an historic house’ and ‘our job is tough but someone has to do it.’”
Historic District Commission decisions are appealable to the Connecticut Superior Court, the letter said.
The town council referred the architects' complaints to its committee of the whole.