Belgian blocks along historic Old Post Road tagged as violation
George Colesworthy wanted to brighten up the area around the tree in his Old Post Road front yard. So he made a circular flower bed and planted pink and white impatiens.
But rather than earning kudos, the flower bed has drawn the wrath of the Fairfield Historic District Commission. The problem? The material used to hold the soil for the plantings is Belgian block, a no-no in the town's historic districts.
Colesworthy and his wife, Maryann, got the notice of violation, dated Aug. 20, when they returned home from vacation Aug. 25.
He said he finds the violation "kind of silly" when an informal survey of other homes in the district shows Belgian blocks is used along the driveways. "Who is the judge of what is appropriate?" Colesworthy said.
The commission gave him 30 days to restore the property to its former condition or apply for a certificate of appropriateness. "When the commission makes everyone else remove their block then I will consider removing the blocks," Colesworthy said.
The commission, he said, will need to pay for a suitable alternative, but he has begrudingly submitted an application.
"Any hardscape inserted into the ground comes under our jurisdiction," said Ellen Gould, the historic district chairman. She added that she believes the Colesworthys' flower bed edging is set in cement.
Gould said the commission's handbook was amended around 1991 to specifically list Belgian block as inappropriate. "It's not a native material," she said.
She said that other property owners notified by the commission about illegal Belgian block have all complied and removed the offending material. Many of the violations involve homeowners using Belgian block as edging and aprons for driveways.
"If everybody got to do whatever they wanted, the character of the three historic districts would change dramatically," Gould said. Those who purchase a house in a historic district, she said, "sign on to adhere to the regulations established, and if you don't like that, you don't move into a historic district."
She said many real estate agents are responsible about making sure potential buyers know about the historic district and all that it entails, but added that the designation that a home is in a historic district can be found on the second page of the property disclosure.
Options open to the Colesworthys, Gould said, would be a Ryerson edging, which is metal, or a low-grade bluestone.
The historic district panel has also recently cited flagpoles, tree houses and, in one case, a ham radio antenna, as violating its regulations. That, however, doesn't necessarily mean those items have to be removed. Removal is an option, but homeowners can also make an application to the commission to get approval.
Pieter Van Munching removed a flagpole from his Meeting House Lane home last May, according to commission minutes, rather than make any changes. Van Munching received approval for the flagpole in 2009, but he was to return to the commission with plans for alternate material, size and location for the pole.
When he didn't, the commission issued a notice of violation. At a hearing, he was told the commission members felt the flagpole was "too commercial looking and too detached from the house." He left the hearing, according to the minutes, calling the commission "very unpatriotic."
But the commission, Gould said, didn't make up the rules governing the historic districts, they are mandated by the state.
"We really are here to help people," she said, "and make the town what it was meant to be."