Turning 1700s Trumbull home into 9-apartment building gets applause, criticism from commission

TRUMBULL — The plan to convert a historic house on Daniels Farm Road into apartments is a pretty good one, but needs more work, according to feedback from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The commission, at its May 19 meeting, reviewed a preliminary plan that would turn the Colonial-era Daniel Hawley House at 49 Daniels Farm Road into nine one-bedroom apartments.

A 19th Century barn on the property would also be renovated into two one-bedroom apartments. The 1.49-acre property also includes a smaller single family home that the prospective property owners would renovate for their own habitation.

“I like the project,” said commission member David Preusch. “This is a historic house that basically has outlived its usefulness as a single family home. So it’s no longer viable in that way. I’m glad somebody is looking at it as (a reimagined use) because this property has a date with a bulldozer otherwise in its future.”

Currently the main house exists as a three-family house, with three three-bedroom apartments. Attorney Andrea Gomes, representing developers Dan and Meghan Riccio, said the proposal would be complementary to the surrounding neighborhood and would preserve the historic significance and integrity of the site.

“Trumbull provides for adaptive reuse of structures with historic value for which the existing use is no longer viable,” Gomes said. As anyone who owns an older home can understand, it is very expensive, and sometimes economically prohibitive, to keep up with these older structures, and it’s particularly difficult to use property in an economically viable way that preserves the character and history.”

The Hawley house, Gomes said, is not listed on any historic registry and is vulnerable to being demolished for a more economically viable use. But, she said, she hoped the P&Z Commission would amend the multi-family housing moratorium to allow reuse of the Daniels Farm Road site.

“We know it (the moratorium) is there, and we’re going to address it one way or another,” she said. “We’re doing our best to work with town staff so that we’re doing this hand-in-hand with the town. But of course, every meeting that passes where there isn’t a change to the moratorium is more and more delay on our part.”

Because the development is still in the pre-application process, commissioners limited their responses to general observations and comments. Tony Silber, the commission’s acting chairman, asked about neighborhood outreach in the immediate vicinity. Dan Riccio said he had knocked on numerous doors in the area.

“Their first concern is the unknown,” he said. “But everyone is definitely on board with the fact that we’re not planning on a ton of tree clearing, and we’re putting the property to use in a conservative way.”

Preusch said he was “totally there” on the idea of reusing old properties.

“I like the fact that the buildings are staying in their historic locations. I like the fact that the parking is in the back so we don’t have cars parked in front of the building,” he said. “So in that regard, I think it’s a good plan.”

An architect, Preusch was critical of some of the proposed design aspects such as oversized dormers and cupolas that he variously described as “heavy handed,” “very commercial looking” and “inappropriate.”

“The problem I have, and it is solvable, is that when I look at the rendering, I don’t see the Daniel Hawley House.”

Tony Chory, the commission member most critical of the project, said he did not think the intent of adaptive reuse was to allow converting residential homes into high density apartments.

“It could set a precedent that anyone could convert their home into high density housing, and people coming and going at all hours of the night adversely affecting the neighborhood,” he said.

He indicated his opinion could change if the project were part of a larger rehabilitation of the Town Center area, “but general adaptive reuse that stands alone, to me, is a precedent that would be harmful to the town.”

As the next step in the process, Gomes said the development group would be meeting with town staff to work out some more details, including design and traffic impact studies, before returning to the commission with a formal application.