Hi Chris – I am the President of the Greenwich Point Conservancy, and we do in fact have plans ready to go to restore the Old Barn (aka North Concession building), which was built in 1887 and is the oldest surviving building at Greenwich Point. It was a livestock barn when first built, and had two wings and an open section in the middle (covered by the roof). It is listed on the CT State Register of Historic Places, and has been approved for listing on the National Register as well.
Our plans are to restore it to its original configuration and materials (stone and shingle), and add a dining deck on the beach side. The food concession would be rehabbed, and restrooms would be added to the opposite wing, which used to house the Bruce Museum Seaside Center before it moved to the restored Innis Arden Cottage. The brick 1950-era municipal style restroom building would be demolished, and the views up the beach and through the center of the old barn from the roadway would be opened up and terrific.
On Tuesday night the town (as the owner of the building), assisted by the Greenwich Point Conservancy, went before the P&Z commission for a preliminary site approval for the project. Because the Old Barn is a listed historical building, it is eligible for a variance from the requirement to raise the structure per the new FEMA guidelines. This is a good thing, for if such a variance is not obtained, the building will need to be torn down, which would be a huge loss (it would not be possible to raise it 10 feet and still have it be usable; handicap access would not be feasible, nor would it be realistically accessible by anyone for that matter). We have worked closely with the town and the state DEEP to include in the plan various types of construction to mitigate storm issues in the future.
The GPC has privately raised the funds for this work, and also has offered an endowment to cover damage in the future, so that the town would not have an issue with its FEMA insurance coverage generally.
There are some in town who believe that essentially nothing should be built in these coastal and flood zones, and that when buildings are damaged, they should be removed and the coastline essentially reclaimed by nature. While in some cases this may make sense, Greenwich Point is a town park and beach, and it needs to have services. Further, Greenwich Point has an amazing and rare/valuable collection of historic buildings, all of which are in the flood zone. It would a tragedy to loose these cultural resources. No one is prejudiced by granting a variance for a public building such as this, as it is for the benefit of and used by everyone.
Interestingly, we had similar issues when we were beginning our efforts to restore Innis Arden Cottage. It was slated for eventual demolition, and there were those in power who did not believe it should be restored, even though it had survived in that site for 110 years, including through the hurricane of ’38, our worst on record. The GPC had to fight to get the building recognized as an important historical asset and to save it. Now, most people love the restored Cottage and would not think of recommending that it be razed. It is notable that the Innis Arden Cottage is only a few hundred feet away from the Old Barn, and is at the same elevation.
Now we again face the same challenge, with certain people who think that this beautiful 125-year-old building, which has stood on the beach for all that time, should be demolished. I should note that most of the damage to the building in Hurricane Sandy was to sections that had been altered in more recent years – the original parts weathered the storm the best.
I am confident that we will eventually get the right result here, as we did with the Innis Arden Cottage, but we need all the support we can get from the community. If you support the restoration of this great building (trust me, when restored it will be beautiful and its terrace will be the best waterfront dining spot in town, bar none), please let town officials, P&Z members and other land use officials know how you feel.
Thanks and best regards, Chris Franco
Readers who wish to support Mr. Franko’s efforts might do well by contacting Peter Tesei directly, here.