Editorial: Demolition delay —time to act

The notion of a “demolition delay ordinance” was raised at last week’s “listening session” on the new town plan, and it’s a good idea.

The basic concept is that when a property owner seeks to tear a building down, there would be a waiting period — a few months, usually — allowing people who care about the town’s architectural heritage to do research, and raise the question of whether the building has historic value that should be weighed into the decision about its demolition.

Without a regulation, demolition permits are issued by the building department and the possible historic value of the building to be torn down isn’t a consideration.

A demolition delay wouldn’t empower preservationists to prevent a demolition that the property’s owner wanted to proceed with. But a delay would give them time to raise questions, make their arguments, and try to save a building.

Ridgefield has lost historic buildings that shouldn’t have been torn down. One that was particularly painful was the demolition of the Nehemiah Keeler house — long known as “the pink house” in Ridgebury — that was knocked down back in 2009, after town officials and the Ridgefield Historical Society made a considerable push to save it.

More recently, the house built by former Governor Lounsbury — and moved to Governor Street to make way for the Community Center building now known as Lounsbury House — was torn down to make way for the new RVNA headquarters.

A historic home on Gilbert Street was torn down a few years ago to make way for an apartment building.

This isn’t a radical idea. Ridgefield looked into a demolition delay ordinance some years ago, but the idea didn’t gather enough support.

It’s time to try again.

Some 55 of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities have laws calling for a pause — 60 days, 90 days, 180 days — before the wrecking ball takes down a historic building.

Surely Ridgefield —which treasures its history, its Main Street, its old New England look — should be among them.

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