It was a story of miscommunication, uncommunication, and perhaps misrepresentation when Peter Daub and his wife Christiane traveled to Suffield to look for a home here. The Daubs lived in Michigan, where they had raised their family, including daughter Anna-Kristin, now Anna-Kristin Daub-Murphy. She and Shawn Murphy had purchased a house on East Street South on 50 acres of good land, which they have developed into a vegetable farm called Abiding Acres. They have a farm stand out front, and their website emphasizes their efforts to aid community sustainability.
According to Mr. Daub’s testimony in a subsequent hearing, he and his wife found Suffield to be an appealing place, especially the North Main Street region where Rayco Development Co. has been selling lots and building houses in a new subdivision called Stonegate. In addition to the 11 new lots on Stonegate Lane, the project includes two existing houses on North Main, another existing house along the new road, and one new lot on North Main. There were also a number of other buildings remaining from the location’s previous tobacco-growing years, almost all of them within the Suffield Center Historic District, which extends 400 feet back from North Main Street. Minutes of Planning & Zoning meetings and a subsequent hearing report that the developer spoke of preserving all the old buildings.
But when the Daubs considered buying the project’s new lot at 510 North Main Street, they found the large tobacco shed on that lot to be a hindrance. Mr. Daub stated in the hearing mentioned above that he would have no use for the shed and could envision no acceptable use. In fact, he valued the lot’s view to the eastern horizon, and he wanted his new house to be set back from the standard building line, which would improve the view.
Plans for the new house put its rear corner only about 20 feet from the big shed, which would use a large portion of the rear yard and seriously detract from the view. Daub said he would not buy the lot unless the barn could be removed. So he and developer Rayco asked the Suffield Historic District Commission (HDC) to allow its removal. In addition, he began to research ways to save the barn by moving or reassembling it elsewhere. (One possible move that he explored was to Hilltop Farm, where the Friends of the Farm at Hilltop declined the offer.)
To Mr. Daub’s puzzlement, the agenda of the HDC meeting on February 7, 2022, listed his request as demolishing the old shed, though he had asked for removing it. To the surprise of many, after long discussion the Commission approved demolishing it, by a close vote of 3 to 2. In response, two Commission members resigned.
Member Klaire Bielonko responded further. She led an effort that eventually gathered over 600 signatures on a petition to ask the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to intervene, as the State’s authority overrides the Town’s in these matters.
In the next HDC meeting, on March 7, according to its draft minutes (received by the Town Clerk for recording on April 4) the Commission discussed at length what had happened at their February 7 meeting. The March 7 meeting, according to its draft minutes, was adjourned without a vote on accepting or correcting the February 7 draft minutes.
But during that discussion in the March 7 meeting, Commissioner Bielonko reportedly commented, “There is a 90-day demo delay since the barn is on the historic registry.”
On May 4, presumably in response to Bielonko’s petition, the SHPO Council held a long hearing, whose 97 pages of printed transcript make interesting reading. At the end of that hearing, the nine voting members unanimously voted “to refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General to prevent the unreasonable destruction of the historic property . . . ” The Observer’s attempts to ask the Attorney General’s office about that referral have not been successful.
Mr. Daub commented during the SHPO hearing that he had waited until the HDC’s decision before closing on his purchase of the property. Excavation for his new house began in the summer. At this writing, the foundation is complete and the first floor walls are being erected.
The “final” lot plan, dated June 29, 2022, shows the rear corner of the house just about 20 feet from the front of the shed, which is still standing. At the SHPO hearing, Mr. Daub had made it clear that he would be willing to leave the shed in place for several months while further attempts were made to preserve the building somewhere else. This writer knows of no available location that would satisfy the intent of the Suffield Center Historic District listing on the National Register of Historic Places. And Dr. Margaret Faber, a member of the Historic Preservation Council, commented during the hearing, “When an historic building has been moved, it loses its integrity of setting and its sense of place and time . . .”