WETHERSFIELD - A discussion regarding the proposed consideration of selling Wethersfield’s Standish House drew criticism from a handful of residents that came out to last Monday’s meeting to speak out in favor of keeping the property.
Amongst them were affiliates of the Historical Society, which is party to a 50-year lease with the town for that building.
The question was first raised by Councilor Stathis Manousos, who asked that the Town Council at least consider offering a discussion regarding whether or not the town should continue ownership of the Standish House, the home of Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grille in Old Wethersfield, before the body voted to apply for three grants, one of which would be directed for renovations to the property.
“I was appalled by the Republicans’ attempt to thwart a grant for work on the Standish House,” said Lee Standish, the grandson of Jared Butler Standish, one of the heirs to the property. “My grandfather did a lot of work to reach consensus amongst the Standish heirs to entrust this to the town.”
Manousos had suggested that the Town Council, with input from residents, consider selling the Standish House to private hands in order to shed the obligation it has to maintain the property, while putting it on the property tax rolls.
“If it falls into private hands, you send a chill to anyone who might consider giving a gift to the town,” Standish said. “You let something of historical value fall to the whims of somebody’s business interests.”
But the property already serves someone else’s private interests, although not by technicality, Manousos said this week.
“The question is whether or not taxpayers should be paying for repairs, maintenance, and capital improvements to the building,” Manousos said. “No one’s bringing their kids on an educational field trip to the building. This is unlike other Historical Society buildings, all of which have a civic and educational value to the public.”
The Council will conduct a review to evaluate whether or not the arrangement is “working for town,” Manousos said.
“If at the end of the day, the town continues to own the property and pay for it, so be it,” he said. “But we won’t know unless we to the analysis. To not review it would be irresponsible.”
The process, which will include public input, will involve pinpointing a more definitive figures for the Standish House-related costs to the town, Manousos said.
“It’s not just physical work--there’s staff time involved,” he said. “There are legal fees for various issues. There’s day to day maintenance. While we’re talking about historical buildings, we have the Nature Center, which can always use more money, and it has a greater public use, and arguably, a greater public value.”v
Members of town staff and the infrastructure committee want to apply for the STEAP grants, which constitute $450,000 for façade loan/redevelopment/demolition; $460,000 for exterior site work, ADA compliance and painting of the Standish House; and $386,000 for the Solomon Welles parking lot. However, a proposed amended motion, if it had passed, would have eliminated the Standish House from the funding bid.
While the discussion may re-emerge later, residents that spoke are calling on the Town Council to keep the property in order to fulfill the purpose of historical preservation.
“There’s a risk that the building can fall into disrepair or go out of business and become a vacant property,” said Wethersfield resident John Dudley during last Monday’s meeting.
The Standish House was offered to Wethersfield in 1929, under the terms that the town would maintain “the rare setting and appearance of a most typical New England village,” according to Candace Holmes, president of the Governing Board of the Wethersfield Historical Society.
“The Standish heirs agreed to bequest this property under the assumption that the architectural integrity would be protected in perpetuity by the town,” Holmes said. “The town was entrusted with keeping this jewel, which is literally and figuratively at the center of historic Old Wethersfield.”
In addition to the Standish House, the Historical Society manages the Keeney Cultural Center and Museum, the Old Academy and the Cove Warehouse. It shelled out $80,000 this year for maintenance contracts, insurance, repairs, security and utilities at the Keeney Cultural Center, while taking $41,000 in rent payments from Lucky Lou’s, according to Holmes.
“The primary motivation behind the arrangement has never been profit, but preservation,” she said.