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Fate of Olney House in Hands of the Courts After PZC Approval

Members of the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday approved a motion allowing two separate special permit uses for the YMCA, but the fate of the Olney House is still undetermined.

The approval of a dual plan for the expansion of the Southington YMCA on Wednesday officially put the fate of the historic Jesse Olney House in the hands of the state courts, but discussions with the CT Trust for Historic Preservation may be the final determining factor in whether the house is demolished or used for another purpose.

The Southington Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday approved a motion that will allow for a special exception on two separate plans, one that would incorporate the demolition of the Olney House and an alternate plan that presents plans if the house were to remain in place.

But members of the commission were clear that while they would be interested in seeing the home saved, if at all feasible, it’s a decision best left for the court at this point.

“We saw a prudent plan. They presented their plan with a fully thought-out alternative and clear vision regardless of what happens to the house,” Commissioner James Macchio said. “I believe we have done our duty. Once the courts decide, it will be left to YMCA to adhere to the court’s decision.”

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A site plan for the project still needs final approval, but concerns over traffic flow on High Street and North Main Street led members of the commission to table the vote until later in the month.

The YMCA announced their plans for expansion earlier this year after the non-profit organization obtained the three properties that have previously abutted its campus, but the plan has been met with heavy opposition from those in favor of preserving the Olney House.

Expansion would include a 10,000 square foot addition for a brand new all-purpose gymnasium, renovation of the TD Bank building as the YMCA Women’s Center and expansion of parking to 277 spaces if the house is demolished and 265 if the Olney House remains.

During a meeting on Dec. 5, more than a dozen local residents spoke in favor of preservation including Peter Anderson, who approached the commission again on Wednesday to seek help from the commission in sparing the home.

Anderson said he believes it is a quality of life issue and the home should be spared for the benefit of the town.

“I would leave it to the town attorney, but as resident I believe it is the purview of the planning and zoning commission to determine quality of life issues and the Olney House as a historic location is a prime contributor to my quality of life,” Anderson said.

But Stephen Giudice, principal with Harry E. Cole & Sons, told members of the commission Tuesday night that the expansion is under review, not the demolition of the home. He said the commission should look at the YMCA’s rights as a business to develop on the property they own.

Giudice also said Wednesday that while the project includes just a 12 space reduction, to be able to keep the Olney House would require renovating it for office or medical space use and would therefore require dedicated parking for the building as well, leading to a loss of 23 spots from the original proposal.

The lot currently has 243 spaces and would therefore gain only 11 actual spaces with the expansion if the Olney House remains, he said.

The YMCA does have the best interest of the community in mind, YMCA Executive Director John Myers said Wednesday, and will continue to work to help provide the preservation that residents and historians are seeking.

“We’ve had productive discussions with the CT Trust for Historic Preservation and are trying find a way that is both feasible and prudent to address the house,” Myers told the commission. “The initial plan is still the direction we would like to move in. Alternate A is presented at the same time so we can continue to move forward, not just before you but with Connecticut (Department of Transportation).”

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George W January 03, 2013 at 11:27 AM
If I was adjudicating this thing, one aspect I'd have to ask myself is, "Was anybody interested in this building before this all started?" There are a lot of historic features in any town, particularly New England towns. We cannot hamstring the future for everyone by being held hostage to a few crackpots who will stand in the way of progress for every little point of historical interest. This house was an eyesore when it was actively used, will likely be so going forward and hinders the Y, another organization of historical interest that benefits far greater of the community. Take a picture for the historical society and put up a plaque in situ but take the darn thing down!
L. Florian January 03, 2013 at 03:46 PM
I hope they can find a way to save this building. In recent years Southington has torn down a number of historic buildings around downtown. With the additions and previous use this building may have looked run down in the past. However what remains at this point is a rare and beautiful example of the architecture of it's time. I remember when the big Victorian building next to the Post Office was run down. Today it is fantastic. Once a 200 year old building is gone it can not be replaced, plus this particular building was home to a Southington resident whose invention benefited people around the world. Shame on the YMCA if they tear it down for a few parking spaces. There has to be other parking options in that area.
Csmith January 03, 2013 at 06:57 PM
it's amazing that all of a sudden people are concerned with this building. Being a former employee of "The Bank of Southington" many of us would sit and watch out the windows to the numerous amounts of people who would park in our lot and go into the building where they were selling drugs. Is this the type of building we need to hang on to? No one was concerned with the activities that were going on in this building for years and years, now the YMCA wants to knock down a building and all of a sudden people are upset. REALLY????? How many of you people who are upset even knew what was going on in this building for many years?
Connie January 04, 2013 at 03:41 PM
This property belongs to the Y and they should be able to do whatever they want with it. My memory of that house is that it was so ugly, really rundown and in IT was know as a crack house. OK future generation, run down your grandmothers beautiful old Victorian home then the historical society will come in and restore that house again, at who's expense???
Brian A January 07, 2013 at 06:06 AM
They beheaded people at the Tower of London. That is even worse than selling drugs. Should it be torn down. It is not the building's fault that people knew it was a crack house and did nothing about it. It's the people's fault. This building is not a typical Victorian house. The history and architecture of this building are beyond some people's understanding.

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