A proposal to create a Liberty Street Historic District will come before a public hearing Wednesday night 7:30 p.m. at town campus. The meeting of the town's Historic District Commission will feature a presentation by Lucy Van Liew, chair of the Liberty Street Historic District Study Committee and their findings relating to the their draft report.
"At this hearing written communications will be received and interested parties will be heard prior to finalizing the Report," the notice of the meeting says, adding that a copy of the report is available for inspection in the Land Use Office, Madison Town Campus.
Van Liew is coordinating the effort along with other volunteers who have worked for more than a year on it, says she is looking forward to the public hearing. After the public hearing, the next step is a postal ballot vote conducted by the town for those within the proposed district who are registered property owners.
Madison Historic District Commissions Supports Proposal
John Lind, the chair of the Madison Historic District Commission, says in a "to whom it may concern" letter to the town dated Feb. 4, 2013 that the Madison Historic District Commission "unanimously supports the Liberty Street Historic District Study Committee Draft Report and strong recommends approval" of the proposed historic district.
"It is clear the Study Committee worked very closely with residents and property owners to create the best possible proposal," Lind said in his letter to the town.
But two residents say the commission did not work closely with all affected property owners. One is flying in Wednesday from Washington, DC to attend the public hearing. Another, who is currently traveling in Qatar, on the northeast coast of the Arabian peninsula, said he will not be able to attend but is sending his lawyer. Several anonymous letters have been circulated to the neighborhood, expressing concern about the proposal and process.
The head of the study committee responded to those concerns in another letter to residents saying that the historic district would benefit residents in many ways, including providing them with an effective way to combat "the threat of the Shoreline Greenway Trail" running down Liberty Street.
Flying in from Washington, DC, meeting with legal counsel
Roger Scully, who--with his brothers--owns property on Neptune Avenue that is currently included in the proposed district, said he does not agree that the study committee worked closely with all residents and property owners. Scully, who lives in Washington, DC, plans to fly in Wednesday to attend the public hearing and express his concerns about the proposal and process.
"I am meeting with Connecticut legal counsel on Wednesday to review our options ... my initial objection is the continuing failure by the Madison Officials responsible to provide us with a single piece of paper concerning this matter. We somehow get our RE Tax bill delivered without any problems but they were unable to give us notice in this matter? Why?" he said.
"I do not currently have sufficient information to make an informed decision regarding the creation of the Historic District so I must object until I am provided with such information by the Official Madison Government Agency charged with managing this matter." Scully said he and his brothers have been denied the "most basic elements of due process" by the town. "As a consequence we are threatened with the irreparable harm represented by the loss of our property rights," he said.
Options for property include "portal" to provide people access to the beach
Scully says his family has lived along the shoreline for almost a century and has owned the home since 1978, when it was purchased by a family member so she could live close to other family members nearby. The home is of no historic value and is currently is being rented out to a young couple, he said. He added the family has discussed a wide range of options regarding the future of the property, including using it as a portal to provide summer beach access to children who live in cities. He said that is an idea favored one of his brothers, who envisions cheerful picnics at the house and sunny day trips to beach for the children who would be bussed in from cities at the family's expense. He said informal discussions with church leaders in some Connecticut cities have been held to see if that might be a viable idea.
Scully said two of his other brothers don't care what happens to the house and he's not sure whether that idea makes sense. But he said he does want to make sure, as a property owner and tax payer, that his rights are respected.
"The most disturbing aspect of this affair is that the Town of Madison, because of the careless actions of Town officials, is forcing us to force the Town to expend the resources we provide as taxpayers," he said. "I will seek a carve-out of our property from any proposed Liberty Street Historic District because our property does not front on Liberty, has no direct access to Liberty Street and most obviously, because our property lacks any historic character or relevance whatsoever."
"Easiest thing to do would be to donate property"
"At this point, the easiest thing for us to do would be to simply donate the property for use as a portal for inner city youths to access the beach," he said. "A decision will be made once we understand where things are going. If the Town of Madison continues to step on our basic civil rights, we will respond in our best interests regardless of the any impact our decision may have on the community."
In addition to Scully's specific concerns, an anonymous objector has been printing and distributing letters to residents of Liberty Street on at least three occasions since July 2012.
"So what does this process entail? What are the costs to you as a homeowner? Who decides what is appropriate? More to come in future installments ... " says the Volume 1, July 2012 letter, which has "Don't Tread On Me" and a coiled serpent printed at the bottom of the page.
"Might be difficult for ... committee to grant homeowners' requests"
Volume 2 says that in order to replace roof shingles, homeowners would have to follow a detailed four step process that could require two to three months of paperwork and meetings before work would start. "If you need to appeal, it could be months or even a year to navigate the court process," said Volume 2, in October 2012.
Another missive, delivered February 23 to Liberty Street mailboxes said that even those who vote no on the ballot or express opposition to the proposal, might still be included in the district. "Many residents told the study committee that they did not support the creation of a historic district, or that they did not want their property included in such a district--but now find their homes included in the proposed district anyway," the letter says.
It also says those who want to be carved out of the district might be too late if they ask now. "One of the statutory requirements for historic districts is that the district is contiguous, so it may be difficult for the study committee to grant homeowners' request to be excluded without 'breaking the chain' and fragmenting the district they have already carefully drawn," the letter says.
"Let your elected officials know"
The letter urges people to show up to the hearing on Feb. 27 to object if they are not in favor of the district, and to communicate with the town's Board of Selectmen. "If you don't want to be in the historic district, and you have been included in the proposal against your wishes, let your elected officials know," the letter says. "The Selectmen have the power to alter this proposed effort if they feel it is unfair or unwise."
Vic McGrady is another resident who plans to object. He is in Doha, Qatar on business and won't be back until the beginning of March, so he plans to have his attorney, Stacey Lafferty, attend the hearing on his family's behalf.
"The nature of my concerns can be briefly summarized as follows," he said via email Tuesday.
"We want nothing to do with our property being located inside the historic district"
"1. We want nothing to do with our property being located inside the historic district. Our property does not have any historic value nor does our home which was built roughly 6 years ago. 2. In my opinion, the process has been conducted in an extremely biased and improper manner. 3. The Historic District Commission is violating our civil rights and is not being truthful or transparent with us."
McGrady, like Scully, said he and his family "will absolutely pursue legal action if necessary."
He said he has asked the commission in writing to exclude his property from the district.
"Cowardice and lack of integrity"
And he also asked in writing why two other properties "squarely on Liberty Street" have already been excluded from the district.
"We have asked them these two simple questions in multiple and clearly documented requests and they dance around the issues but refuse to answer these two very simple questions," McGrady said.
"It is exactly this kind of cowardice and lack of integrity that are part of this murky process that we are completely against."
"You know ... it has been a very difficult process"
Van Liew said Tuesday she knows there is some opposition, but she said she has talked with many on the street who support the proposal. "You know ... it has been a very difficult process," she said. "We have tried extremely hard to be inclusive and to set up opportunities to let people know more. Now, when we put out a draft plan for comment, they have responded very aggressively. We're not perfect, this is the first time any of us have done something like this. We're just neighbors and I've been a little disconcerted with the aggressiveness of some."
Van Liew said it is a draft plan and that she wants people to express support or opposition so that it can be taken into consideration.
She said some Liberty Street residents have asked to be carved out of the district, and that those requests have been honored. She said it is still possible to carve out others, but said "there are some logistical requirements we have to make."
"Perhaps we can have a few feet of your driveway, that kind of thing"
But she said the committee is willing to accommodate requests as much as possible. "If people are philosophically proposed, maybe we can have a few feet of your driveway, that sort of thing," she said.
"I'm very sorry if we have failed the neighborhood in not communicating better. If so, it is a human failure. We are all neighbors," she said. "We have tried very hard. We believe that what we are trying to do is good. We accept that not everybody shares our viewpoint."
In a letter to neighbors dated in October 2012, Van Liew said the creation of the historic district said she objected to the opposition letters being sent anonymously. "We are a Town appointed committee and while we welcome all views we believe questions and issues should be aired openly. We respect the opinions of those who consider the creation of a historic district an unnecessary restriction, even if we disagree with this position and see it is as a reasonable accommodation to preserve something that is valuable, namely the wonderful quality of our neighborhood.
Two "potential threats to the character of our street"
Van Liew goes on to cite two "potential threats to the character of our street."
One was a proposal, which was subsequently carried out, to demolish a house at 129 Liberty Street, near the east end of the street. "Again, we have the prospect of a modest but charming 1930s house being replaced by something that might be out of scale with its surroundings," she said in the letter. Van Liew said Tuesday that the developer of that house met with neighbors and members of the commission and presented plans that alleviated some of those concerns. The new, larger home is now under construction.
The other "threat" she cited is "the possibility of the Shoreline Greenway Trail being routed down Liberty St, to link the Hammonasset section with the approved section eastward along the Boston Post Road, to the intersection at Lovers Lane. If Liberty Street was designated as a Historic District we would have a much stronger voice to influence this proposal," she said in the letter.
Scully said Tuesday that bikes, regardless of what happens with the Shoreline Greenway Trail, are a reality of living on the street, along with walkers walking two and three abreast, people roller blading and people walking their dogs.
Biking down Liberty Street because Route 1 is dangerous
"The street is heavily traveled bikeway, and roller bladeway, and, my favorite ... motorcyles that wake you up in the middle of the night," he said. While that can be aggravating, he said, the reason why people do that is because the stretch of Boston Post Road that runs along that part of town is dangerous, with little or no shoulder in some areas.
Is the study commission "suggesting that more people should take their lives in their hands and travel along Route 1 and stop coming down Liberty Street," he asked. "That's just absurdly stupid." He said he was in a bike accident along that stretch of road. "There is no shoulder. I got knocked by a car, it bumped me into the side of the road because there is no shoulder. So as a matter of self preservation, people bike down Liberty," he said. "And then they want to make all these changes because they object to some ... greenway?"
Van Liew agreed that the greenway was not a responsibility of the committee.
"That is not part of our remit"
"That is not part of our remit," she said. "However, I still feel that one of the benefits of a historic area is that we will have a more unified voice ... rather than just being a bunch of neighbors." She added she is not opposed to the greenway trial philosophically, "I think it's fabulous," but that she does have concerns about it going down her street.
She added that it is not the intent of the committee to force people to live in the past. "We are trying to value the assets we have, realize we live in the present and look toward the future," she said. "Of course houses have to change. They have to evolve. No one is expecting us to live in the past. What we would like to see, when houses are updated or replaced, is that something is built that is appropriate in terms of character and size and scale that enhances our community."
She again said she was sorry if anyone felt as though they were not properly informed about the plans or process. "People do have busy lives, so sometimes they don't take notice until it hits them in the face," she said. "I would like to keep the discourse civilized. It's not a question of winning or losing. We're in a neighborhood. We have to live with each other."