The Ridgefield Historical Society is declining a $1,000 donation. Here’s why.

RIDGEFIELD — The town’s historical society has declined a $1,000 donation from a local builder who demolished a house on New Street without the proper permits.

In September, CV Building Concepts owner Rich Szentkuti razed a house at 8 New Street; he owns the property in addition to 10 New Street, the site of a garage.

The town’s 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 had 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

When Szentkuti appeared in Danbury Superior Court in December, the prosecutor suggested he make a $1,000 donation to a local organization in lieu of paying the maximum $1,000 fine pursuant to the state’s building code. Celestino suggested the historical society.

“The decision was made with everyone’s full knowledge that instead of going under the demolition delay … we would file under the (state’s) building code, because it was the stiffer penalty,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “The prosecutor suggested … it be paid in the form of a donation ... that way the money at least stays in Ridgefield.”

In a recent letter to the editor, the historical society’s Board of Directors, however, said it would decline the donation since they were unaware of the circumstances behind the decision.

“The fact that the donation was proffered in cash with no explanation and requesting a receipt further adds to our unwillingness to accept it,” the letter reads. “We want no part of any settlement where the law is flagrantly broken, whose consequences are minimal and whose resolution sets a bad precedent.”

The board indicated that it would either donate the money to “Ridgefield’s neediest” or return it to the state. RHS representatives did not provide additional comment.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com