Structures on New Street in Ridgefield razed without proper permits, officials say

RIDGEFIELD — A house and a garage that formerly stood on New Street were demolished last month without the proper permits, town officials said.

According to Building Official Jason Celestino, the Building Department accepted a demolition permit application from CV Building Concepts, the current property owner, for review on Sept. 15. The structures — at 8 and 10 New Street, respectively — however, were 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,” Celestino said.

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.

Under the ordinance, applicants must 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.

CV Building Concepts owner Rich 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 the structures. On Sept. 21, the committee sent a letter to Szentkuti objecting to the house’s demolition. 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

“Even if there was no such thing as demolition ordinance, he had no permit to take that building down,” Historic District Commission Chairman Dan O’Brien said. “That’s the principle issue.”

In its report, the historical society detailed the significance of the former structure at 8 New St. 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. Subsequent owners, many of them contractors and carpenters, used the house for rental income, according to the report.

“All of them found a way to preserve the structure for future generations,” it reads. “One can only hope that the current developer can see the beauty in the house and restore it for future generations.”

Any person failing to abide by the provisions of the ordinance shall be fined the maximum amount of $500 pursuant to state statutes. First Selectman Rudy Marconi said it is “certainly possible” that the town could proceed with further action, such as legal action.

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.

In 2009, the Nehemiah Keeler House on Ridgebury Road was torn down by its owner despite efforts to try and preserve it. The home was a Colonial saltbox built around 1717 to 1720, just a decade or so after the town’s founding in 1708.

“We had ... no recourse, no ability to do anything,” Marconi recalled. “That was very upsetting for a lot of people in the community, and one of the reasons that we needed an ordinance. Change is good in many different ways … but it shouldn’t be at the expense of (our) history.”

As far as plans 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, Director Richard Baldelli said.

“I would anticipate ... as there’s two plots there, that the property owner coming in probably (planned) for a single-family dwelling on each lot,” he added.

As of Friday, the Building Department had not received any submission for a building permit at 8 or 10 New Street, Celestino said.