WETHERSFIELD - An unofficial Ad Hoc committee of Wethersfield residents formed by Councilor Stathis Manousos for the purpose of examining the town’s 50-year lease of the Deming Standish House to the Wethersfield Historical Society will proceed without Town Council recognition.
Manousos’s bid to have his six-member Committee--made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and two unaffiliated members--designated as a Council-sanctioned body was rejected in a 4-4 vote as past and present Historical Society members voiced their opposition to the proposal.
What that means for Manousos and the Committee is that the process of examining the Standish House lease--signed in 2008 with the Historical Society with the purpose of restoring and preserving a building that was given to the town as a gift by the Standish family in 1929--will continue without access to town resources.
“This discussion started with a conversation about a sale,” said Deputy Mayor Steven Barry during a discussion that took place prior to the vote. “The focus now is on a decision made by a Council six years ago. I think a contract is an agreement and I don’t believe that trying to find a way out of a contract is a good use of town resources.”
When the town applied for a handful of STEAP grants--amongst them funds for repair work at the Standish House--Manousos questioned whether or not it was beneficial for Wethersfield to own a property that costs it in maintenance fees and is currently being used to house Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grill, which the restaurant rents from the Historical Society.
Although at the time he suggested that private ownership of the building would get another property onto the tax rolls, in forming the Committee Manousos has expressed a desire to explore all alternatives that might exist in order to “maintain the secure funding for the Wethersfield Historical Society, preserve the structure and reduce the net expense to the town.”
Councilor Donna Hemmann, who supported the proposal, pointed to the building’s preservation as her reason.
“That is a component that needs a look,” Hemmann said. “There are many things [in town] that are very expensive, that need attention, and they compete for funding services.”
The Historical Society’s agreement with Lucky Lou’s stipulates that the restaurant restore the building at its expense--a condition that has led to the replacement of the Standish House’s central staircase, the rebuilding of a missing chimney and roof repairs, all to the tune of $1.5 million that did not come from the town, according to Candace Holmes, president of the Historical Society’s Governing Board.
Although Manousos had asked Holmes, as well as Lee Standish, grandson of Jared Butler Standish--who, as one of the heirs of Cynthia Standish, offered the property to Wethersfield in 1929--to join the committee, they declined because they were under the impression that the inevitable results of discussions would be the sale of the building, Standish said during the public comments segment.
“We declined participation in a process we felt would lead to a foregone conclusion,” Standish said. “This architectural treasure was given to, and rightfully belongs, to Wethersfield. If it falls into private hands, the town loses control of it.”
Of the residents surveyed in an online Wethersfield Town Talk poll, 35 percent expressed a desire to have the lease examined by an ad hoc committee and 28 percent wanted to sell the property--the latter of which is far from being the central objective, Manousos said.
“I don’t think I was asked to do anything about selling the Standish House,” said Paul Kopp, a Republican member of the Committee. “I don’t have any preconceived notions. This committee is going to go forward. If it doesn’t, I’m going to keep looking into it.”