At a Special Meeting of the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen last Friday morning, the selectmen discussed the possibility of conducting a study of historic properties in the town, which had recently been requested in a motion by the Old Lyme Historic District Commission (HDC).
Gregory Stroud, Executive Director of SECoast, had similarly urged that such a survey be undertaken in an op-ed published by LymeLine.com Nov. 6, 2016, noting that Old Lyme’s current survey is some 40 years old and therefore, “shamefully out of date.” He pointed out, “A historic survey matters not just for high-speed rail, but because it will inform every state and federal infrastructure project heading our way …”
The selectmen invited the HDC Chair Dr. John Pfeiffer to join their discussion and he explained why the HDC felt a survey was necessary, saying, “A survey needs to be done to find out what’s out there — we know what’s in the Historic District, but not outside,” adding, “Only when you know what’s out there can you plan.”
Pfeiffer commented, “I hope the Connecticut [State Historic] Preservation Office (SHPO) would come out and make a presentation about the survey terms,” adding, “I don’t know what they have in mind.” He said that the HDC had endorsed the proposal to have a new survey conceptually, but “want to know more about it.” Pfeiffer said, “I would want to get a better handle on what they would do,” while also noting that $30,000 was currently “available” from the state to fund the survey.
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder welcomed the idea of SHPO coming to Old Lyme to give a presentation about how they would conduct the survey as happened when the Sound View proposal was under discussion. She expressed concern at the area which had been mentioned as the survey size related to this proposal — roughly a one-mile-swath from north to south through the center of town. She commented, “I wonder at the breadth of the survey — that’s a lot.” Pfeiffer agreed, “It’s probably going to be a long-drawn out process.”
Selectman Arthur “Skip” Sibley, who joined the discussion by phone, said, “I thought there was an existing survey that we’re updating … I thought it was just the Historic District.” Pfeiffer explained, “In the 70s we produced a pretty good map … the survey would define what’s outside. The first step is [to find out] what is out there.”
Sibley then asked, “Would it make sense to have a town hall committee to head this up?” noting that there is “A lot of passion and energy for this topic.”
Pfeiffer responded in the negative saying, “Let’s get the survey started before we have another committee,” adding, “I’m at a loss to figure out how rigorous they (SHPO) want to be … I don’t know what they have in mind.”
Selectwoman MaryJo Nosal said she was about to ask Pfeiffer what had “… compelled the HDC to support this [the motion to request a survey.] She then answered her own question saying, “I like the answer that it’s looking at what’s outside [the Historic District.] Nosal questioned whether the survey should be “a regional effort,” to which Pfeiffer responded firmly, “Yes.” Like Sibley, Nosal said she also believed the survey involved, “… just updating current maps,” noting, “I think it makes really good sense to look outside the town and make it a regional effort.”
Stroud, who was present at the meeting in the audience but not at the table during the discussion, spoke during public comment to clarify several points. He stressed that the initial $30,000 from the state, “Doesn’t require a match [from the town] and therefore is not wasting any taxpayer money.” Moreover, a further $15,000 is available from the federal government and significantly, “SHPO has expressed an interest in the project.” He emphasized that the funds are “currently” available and that therefore there is “some element of a ticking clock.”
Regarding the issue of the scope of the survey, Stroud noted that Daniel McKay of the Connecticut Trust had “arrived at this scope based on the comments of Rachel Reyes- Alicia” at the Aug. 31 meeting held in Old Lyme.
Following up on comments related to the purpose of and time to conduct the survey, Stroud confirmed, “The survey does not entail national registration. It’s a survey to determine eligibility.” He explained his understanding that the survey would take “months, not years” to complete and noted the scope of the survey could be adjusted by the town as desired. He also commented that the “rigor” of the survey, of which Pfeiffer had spoken is different from “scope.”
After the meeting, Stroud told LymeLine.com, “I don’t think anyone with any serious understanding of these issues questions the need for an updated historic survey. I just hope that rather than waiting another three or six months to begin a survey, we start the process when it can still be fully-funded by state, federal and private grants, and while it still can help shape the decisions of the CT DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration.”
He continued, “Let’s keep this process as fast, streamlined and effective as possible. A simple historic survey with wide geographic boundaries. No national registration. No bells and whistles.”