Three more people have applied to the Groton Historic District Commission, including a member of board of trustees of Mystic & Noank Library, who said he believes the group has become “arbitrary and capricious” and is inhibiting economic development in the neighborhood.
Todd Brady, who owns Factory Square and Randall’s Wharf in Mystic, applied on Feb. 14. Brady will be overseeing a $300,000 restoration of Mystic & Noank Library in the coming months.
He is the third person to apply to the commission in the last ten days.
Mel Romani, who worked for 37 years at State Farm Insurance, applied on Feb. 9. William Middleton, who owns an investment advisory firm, applied on Feb. 13.
Middleton said he believes the problem with the commission is no one knows what to expect. He said he's seen random elements in the decisions lately, and homeowners need some certainty about the rules.
"How do you make the commitment to buy a home with no certainty about what you may be able to do with it?" he said.
The commission has been the focus of scrutiny since December, when six architects wrote a letter to the town council saying the group had become unreasonable in its demands. The letter sought the immediate resignation of the commissioners.
On Tuesday, the council’s personnel committee voted not to reappoint Nancy Mitchell, who has served on the commission for 15 years.
Town Councilor Frank O’Beirne, Jr. who made the motion to not reappoint her, said he believes the commission should be changed in view of the issues raised in the last year.
“I felt that it was time to change the makeup through normal attrition,” he said. “Either from people resigning or just not reappointing current members.”
Blindsided by vote
Mitchell said she knew councilors were displeased by the complaints, but she was not prepared for the decision. She said she felt the complaints were not investigated but were taken at face value.
She wrote a letter to Councilor Bruce Flax, the head of the personnel committee, after the vote. Copies were sent to other councilors. Mitchell said she felt humiliated and demeaned in a public forum, and that the decision was made before she sat down.
“I am very disappointed,” Mitchell said. “I’m disappointed that the councilors do not understand how and why the historic district commission is in place and what its job and duties are.”
“We’re not trying to make museums. You take a look at the houses and buildings downtown. They’re not museums. They are livable structures.”
Flax said the councilors did not discuss Mitchell's reappointment ahead of time, and he did not know what they would decide. He said he would not want anyone to feel demeaned, particularly a volunteer.
Driven by Economics
Mitchell said she believes complaints about the commission, in general, are driven by economics. She said people get upset because they want to make changes easily and quickly.
“I think people do things and lash out when they’re under economic stress that they would not do otherwise,” she said. “Especially when you consider that I’ve been on the commission for many years, and things have never been blown up like this.”
She said she would not ask to have her reappointment reconsidered.
A "comfortable" experience
In his application, Brady wrote that he has appeared before Historic District Commission many times during the last 15 years, and has noticed a dramatic change recently.
He said the group has little tolerance for new building materials and techniques, and rejects requests that would have been approved years ago.
“I believe the (commission) has become arbitrary and capricious with regard to the property rights of many historic district owners,” he wrote. “The (commission) is inhibiting architectural innovation in our neighborhoods and, I believe, economic development in the commercial district.”
The commission oversees an area of about 450 homes and issues “certificates of appropriateness” for homeowners who want to renovate or change their houses.
Brady said seeking such approval should be a “comfortable” experience for all involved.
“The process should not be arduous, intimidating or drawn out,” he said. “It should be streamlined and equitable in its results.”
Four seats open
The commission has eight seats, including three seats for alternate, non-voting members that are vacant. Mitchell’s seat will also be filled with a new member.
In addition to the three people who applied in the last ten days, three others have also applied: Mark Somers, a cardiologist and former board member of New London Main Street; Williams Everett, a retired member of the legal department at Electric Boat; and James Kimenker, a partner in a real estate development and management firm.
The council interviewed Somers on Feb. 14 and sent his application forward to the full council.