Property owner donates $1,000 for razing Ridgefield structure without permits

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — A local builder appeared in Danbury Superior Court last week after demolishing a house on New Street in September without the proper permits.

In lieu of paying the maximum $1,000 fine pursuant to the state’s building code, CV Building Concepts owner Rich Szentkuti instead made a $1,000 donation to the Ridgefield Historical Society.

“Proceeding to raze the one building without the proper demolition permit issued certainly was the wrong direction,” Szentkuti said in a statement. “It was the decision of the building official to give it to an organization based in town that could benefit from it.”

Szentkuti is the current property owner of 8 and 10 New Street, the site of a house and a garage, respectively. The Building Department accepted a demolition permit application from CV Building for review on Sept. 15, but the house was demolished on Sept. 25, before the end of the town’s 30-day demolition ordinance.

“From that day, when it’s accepted by us, that’s when the 30 days start,” building official Jason Celestino said. He added that the garage has yet to be razed.

The ordinance, approved by voters in 2020, states that no person, firm, corporation or other entity shall demolish any building or structure without first obtaining a permit from the town’s building department.

Applicants must also notify adjoining property owners, the Ridgefield Historic District Commission, the Ridgefield Historical Society and the town clerk of their intent to demolish a structure via certified or registered mail.

In an earlier interview, Szentkuti said a notification of demolition was sent to concerned parties on Aug. 19. But Phil Esser, head of RHS’s Preservation Committee, said the notification was not sent by certified mail.

The historical society subsequently began compiling a report to assess the historical significance of both structures. On Sept. 21, the committee sent a letter to Szentkuti objecting to the house’s demolition, noting its historical value. Town officials were also copied on that email, Esser said.

Under the ordinance, if a written objection to the issuance of the demolition permit is filed with the building department within 30 days following the date of the permit application acceptance, the building official shall delay the issuance of the permit for a period of 90 days.

In his statement Szentkuti argued that the house did not have historic value, and noted that it was not located within the town’s historic district.

As far as a plan for the property goes, the Planning and Zoning Commission previously approved a special permit application for an access-way on New Street to serve two single-family residences. Building permits were issued to Szentkuti Friday afternoon upon receipt of payment.

CV Building will construct two single-family houses at 8 New Street, which was divided into two lots, Celestino said.

At Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Historic District Commission Chairman Dan O’Brien said the situation took many local builders by surprise.

“I heard from one builder who said the building community was really taken back by that, and they felt it made them all look bad,” he said. “We don’t want to send the wrong message to ... anyone that you can tear down any building. In this case it was a historic property, but he didn’t even have a demolition permit.”

The two-and-half-story vernacular house was built in the 1870s “in the sophisticated Queen Anne style,” presumably by William H. Gilbert, who purchased the land from Daniel Sherwood, according to the historical society’s report.

The purpose of the ordinance, Marconi explained, is to ensure potentially historic homes in the community are preserved. The 90-day waiting period, he added, allows concerned parties to work with applicants on finding ways to maintain these historic characteristics in their site plans.

“Perhaps this has brought to light some inadequacies within the town ordinance for demolition,” Szentkuti said in his statement. “Those who utilize the delay ordinance for no other reason, other than it exists, as a punitive tool might expose the town to further issues.

He continued, “The ordinance conflicts with the state statues in certain areas and should be revisited to bring it in line.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that only the house at 8 New St. was razed. An earlier version of the story indicated both the house and the garage at 10 New St. were razed. The garage is still standing.

The earlier version also stated that the builder would’ve paid a maximum $500 fine pursuant to state statutes. He would’ve paid a maximum $1,000 fine pursuant to the state’s building code.