'A Trumbull legacy': Apartments eyed for historic property

TRUMBULL — A Colonial-era house with a connection to one of Trumbull’s best-known historic figures could be converted into single-bedroom apartments, according to a preliminary plan presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission last week.

Attorney Raymond Rizio, representing the applicant Meghan Riccio, presented a pre-application for adaptive reuse of the Daniel Hawley house at 49 Daniels Farm Road. Pre-applications allow the commission to provide comments and feedback on potential projects before the formal application process begins.

Rizio said the plan was to convert the historic structure into multifamily housing, while preserving its exterior characteristics. The house sits on a hill overlooking lower Daniels Farm Road.

“You’ve probably driven by it a hundred times and seen it,” Rizio said.

First built in the 1750s, the house has been expanded several times over the centuries, and currently is “a concoction of room after room, and add-on after add-on.” Rizio said.

The 1.7-acre property, located about 200 feet north of the Daniels Farm Road entrance to Trumbull Center, includes three structures. The main house, estimated at about 6,000 to 7,000 square feet, is currently a three-family home with 10 bedrooms, he said. There also is a barn built in the 1830s and a smaller single-family house next to Old Mill Road.

In addition to Daniel Hawley, the namesake to Daniels Farm Road, the house also has a connection to Revolutionary War veteran Nero Hawley, a slave who was enlisted into the Continental Army in place of Daniel Hawley in 1777 and participated in the Battle of Monmouth, in addition to enduring the notoriously harsh conditions at the Valley Forge encampment in the winter of 1777-78. Nero Hawley was emancipated by Daniel Hawley after the war, and spent the next 19 years freeing the rest of his family before dying in 1817 at age 75.

Rizio said the adaptive reuse plan would renovate the main house into nine single-bedroom or studio apartments, build two more single-bedroom units in the barn, and renovate the single-family house for Riccio and her family to live in. The property has room for a 24-car parking lot behind the main house, he said.

“We think there’s a lot of good characteristics. We can run sidewalks from there to where the bridge is over the river and leads to the walking trails,” he said. “You can walk to Trumbull Center, walk to Starbucks, walk to numerous restaurants and parks. It’s something Trumbull doesn’t have, all while keeping the house built in 1750 and the barn built around 1830.”

But Trumbull currently has a moratorium on multifamily housing in town, and Rizio proposed a text amendment to the town zoning regulations that would allow new apartments under adaptive reuse.

“Basically it would allow people to come before you with applications that are interested in preserving old structures in town,” he said.

Commissioner Tony Silber emerged as the most critical of the plan, citing the house’s history and the fact that a condominium village has also been approved in the area.

“This represents a Trumbull legacy. Nero Hawley himself is one of the most famous historic residents of this town,” he said. “We have a standalone condominium village going in virtually next door at some point. So we’d be looking at lower Daniels Farm Road all the way down to White Plains Road as a multifamily sort of hodge podge zone.”

Silber also pointed out that the town’s zoning regulations require as a condition of adaptive reuse, that the new use must be “similar in intensity” to the existing use and questioned how 10 or 11 apartments would qualify.

Rizio replied that the current building includes three units, each with three bedrooms.

“Instead we’re now doing nine one-bedrooms. That would not, in my mind, increase the intensity,” he said. “When you talk about intensity, when you make one-bedrooms, you’ll probably have single people, or older people living alone versus 10 college kids living there and treating it like a fraternity house.”

Commissioner David Preusch said that the definition of adaptive reuse was deliberately flexible.

“Almost anything can be done under adaptive reuse, that’s the purpose - to find a new creative use for old buildings or old houses in order to keep them,” he said. “It’s worth looking at in that respect because if we cannot find a way to reuse these properties, I guarantee they are going to disappear.”

Preusch also disagreed with Silber’s contention that the plan would turn lower Daniels Farm Road into a hodge podge.

“What we are doing is trying to put some order on it,” he said. “Many adaptive reuse projects are apartments. Old factory buildings, old schools, that’s what adaptive reuse is.”

Commission Chairman Fred Garrity expanded on Preusch’s comment that historical houses in town were in danger of disappearing.

“We have no protections if somebody wants to bulldoze it all down,” he said. “We have somebody who is coming in and would like to preserve the historic value, in whatever fashion can be done to modernize and make it attractive in the modern day.”

The key, Garrity said, was to determine whether the plan qualified as adaptive reuse and to evaluate the plan in terms of things like number of units and parking.

“Adaptive reuse says, they are taking something and changing the use to make it more useful,” he said.

That explanation did not satisfy Silber.

“We’re going to plow over our history, if that’s what we want to be, and we’ll end up being a (19)60s and ’70s subdivision town exclusively,” he said. “I’m not in favor of an argument that says we have to do this because we’ll lose our historic homes.”

According to Town Planner Rob Librandi, even though almost anything could be considered adaptive reuse, a plan filed under adaptive reuse gave the commission broad discretion to implement conditions on the applicant.

“It’s one of the toughest regulations,” he said. “There actually is only one adaptive reuse in town, in Nichols, and the conditions of approval were so stringent that the developer walked away from it.”

Garrity closed the pre-application hearing by directing Librandi to work with Rizio to flesh out the application before deciding whether to hold another pre-application session or move to a formal application.

“We have questions we’d like to have staff work with the applicant on,” he said. “Clearly this is an application to bring some modernization to Trumbull Center while trying to preserve, as best they can, the historic property. We have to say, ‘Does this work for us?’”