The approval of a dual plan for the expansion of the Southington YMCA on Wednesday officially put the fate of the historic Jesse Olney House in the hands of the state courts, but discussions with the CT Trust for Historic Preservation may be the final determining factor in whether the house is demolished or used for another purpose.
The Southington Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday approved a motion that will allow for a special exception on two separate plans, one that would incorporate the demolition of the Olney House and an alternate plan that presents plans if the house were to remain in place.
But members of the commission were clear that while they would be interested in seeing the home saved, if at all feasible, it’s a decision best left for the court at this point.
“We saw a prudent plan. They presented their plan with a fully thought-out alternative and clear vision regardless of what happens to the house,” Commissioner James Macchio said. “I believe we have done our duty. Once the courts decide, it will be left to YMCA to adhere to the court’s decision.”
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A site plan for the project still needs final approval, but concerns over traffic flow on High Street and North Main Street led members of the commission to table the vote until later in the month.
The YMCA announced their plans for expansion earlier this year after the non-profit organization obtained the three properties that have previously abutted its campus, but the plan has been met with heavy opposition from those in favor of preserving the Olney House.
Expansion would include a 10,000 square foot addition for a brand new all-purpose gymnasium, renovation of the TD Bank building as the YMCA Women’s Center and expansion of parking to 277 spaces if the house is demolished and 265 if the Olney House remains.
During a meeting on Dec. 5, more than a dozen local residents spoke in favor of preservation including Peter Anderson, who approached the commission again on Wednesday to seek help from the commission in sparing the home.
Anderson said he believes it is a quality of life issue and the home should be spared for the benefit of the town.
“I would leave it to the town attorney, but as resident I believe it is the purview of the planning and zoning commission to determine quality of life issues and the Olney House as a historic location is a prime contributor to my quality of life,” Anderson said.
But Stephen Giudice, principal with Harry E. Cole & Sons, told members of the commission Tuesday night that the expansion is under review, not the demolition of the home. He said the commission should look at the YMCA’s rights as a business to develop on the property they own.
Giudice also said Wednesday that while the project includes just a 12 space reduction, to be able to keep the Olney House would require renovating it for office or medical space use and would therefore require dedicated parking for the building as well, leading to a loss of 23 spots from the original proposal.
The lot currently has 243 spaces and would therefore gain only 11 actual spaces with the expansion if the Olney House remains, he said.
The YMCA does have the best interest of the community in mind, YMCA Executive Director John Myers said Wednesday, and will continue to work to help provide the preservation that residents and historians are seeking.
“We’ve had productive discussions with the CT Trust for Historic Preservation and are trying find a way that is both feasible and prudent to address the house,” Myers told the commission. “The initial plan is still the direction we would like to move in. Alternate A is presented at the same time so we can continue to move forward, not just before you but with Connecticut (Department of Transportation).”
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