After seven months of contentious meetings stemming from a five-story apartment proposal, the Village of Thomaston Board of Trustees approved a recommendation from the Landmark Preservation Commission that grants the Tower Ford building landmark status on Thursday.
The commission recommended the building, located at 124 S. Middle Neck Road, be granted landmark status during a Feb. 8 meeting. Commission Chairman Donald Stern said landmarking the structure could potentially raise costs for the owner in maintaining, repurposing and redeveloping it along with a potential reduction in its assessed value.
Village trustees could either approve or modify their recommendation during Thursday night’s special meeting, with all five unanimously voting to approve it.
Village Mayor Steven Weinberg said all of the trustees reviewed the recommendation submitted by the commission and weighed all of the impacts on what landmarking would mean for the structure and the village.
“My personal view is that I agree with the report, and its balancing of all of the factors that were discussed in the report,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg, who has received harsh criticism from a majority of the public for his handling of the previously-proposed apartment complex on the property, lauded the work of the commission and the strong residential input supporting the landmarking recommendation.
Other board members echoed Weinberg’s statements, siding with the input made by historical experts and other peninsula residents with extensive knowledge of the area.
The village held a public hearing prior to making the decision, with continued public support being shown for the landmarking of the property.
Thomaston resident Wendy Halpern said the process has made her and others get more involved in local government to preserve the quality of life and prevent overdevelopment.
“The small town feel and village is so unique and special to all of us and that’s why we live here,” Halpern said. “And the threat to that is very hurtful to us and you see how the community rallied against this.”
“Every expert who has looked at the property and the board’s hand-picked up landmark committee all signaled that this is a property that should be landmark for the posterity of all village residents,” resident Aaron Egelman said.
“People do not want to turn this community into one with large apartment complexes,” resident Nancy Sherman said. “That’s not the goal in our community.”
The state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation also declared the site eligible to be considered as a historic place on Oct. 29.
The building has been a hot-button issue since July, when initial plans were submitted, and subsequently withdrawn, to develop the apartment complex.
Stephen Limmer, the legal counsel for 124 Middle Neck Realty LLC, who put forward the plans to develop the five-story apartment, previously asked the commission during the meeting to adjourn the matter for 120 days so the applicant can “adequately make a presentation to protect its interests.”
Residents urged the commission not to grant Limmer the delay, since adequate notice of their Jan. 4 meeting was given to the public.
Limmer, in a follow-up letter sent to the village, again asked for the commission to adjourn the matter until May 1 so his client could come up with a multifamily dwelling project acceptable to the village, despite strong residential opposition. Limmer also said his client does not believe the building deserves to be granted landmark status.
“My client believes that there is no particular historic, aesthetic, or other aspects of the building for which it should be given landmark status thus unduly restricting its use and imposing unjustified added expense to its upkeep,” Limmer said in the letter.
In December, the village repealed a local zoning law that, along with the proposal, was met with strong opposition from the public. The law was passed during a July meeting and allowed the Board of Trustees to have “sole and unfettered discretion” on what conditions and incentive use permit may be granted to certain applicants. The law applied to applicants that have a property located partially in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, a total area of at least 0.75 acres but not exceeding one acre, a depth at its greatest point of at least 200 feet and street frontage on Middle Neck Road of at least 230 feet.
The property at 124 S. Middle Neck Road, the former site of Tower Ford and the previously proposed apartment complex, lies partly in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, has a total area of 0.96 acres, and has a depth of 234 feet, according to village documents.