Don’t paint building

To the Editor:

As former members of the Fairfield Historic District Commission (HDC), we are concerned with the painting of the historic telephone company building located at 35 Rose Hill Road in the Southport Historic District. Since its construction in 1913, the building was unpainted red brick, which is in keeping with its original use and historic appearance. Recently, the building was painted white without the approval of the HDC.

To its credit, the HDC voted on July 11th to approve the issuance of a violation. The HDC was right to take this step and in so doing recognized the integrity of the historic features of this building and also the principles by which the vast majority of historic district property owners abide in upholding Connecticut’s historic preservation law and Fairfield’s regulations under it.

We are concerned about this matter on both procedural and substantive grounds.

Procedurally, owners of buildings in historic districts are required to obtain approval of the HDC prior to making exterior changes that will be visible from a public way. The HDC lacks jurisdiction as to color but it most certainly does have responsibility on the question of whether an exterior surface is to be painted or treated at all. This responsibility is reflected in the HDC Handbook, which clearly addresses the issue twice:

“The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (no. 5) states that: “Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques … that characterize a historic “property shall be preserved.” (p. 69); and

“In accord with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards 5 and 7, construction techniques used in making alterations to buildings and structures shall be undertaken in such a way as to preserve existing historic qualities. For example, application of paint or other surface treatments should be done in the manner best suited to preserve the original surface material.” (p. 67).

The violation approved by the HDC sends a clear message that application for changes must be made prior to work being undertaken.

Substantively, we all believe that approval for painting the building at 35 Rose Hill Road should not be granted. The old telephone company building was part of Southport’s historic commercial area. It is, indeed, the only property that was part of that historic commercial area included in and protected by the regulations governing historic districts in Fairfield. As one of the few unpainted brick buildings remaining in the district, when the HDC hears an application on the painting that was undertaken without approval, we sincerely hope that it will be denied and the building returned to the red brick finish that had characterized it since its construction in 1913.

Thomas Dailey

Southport

Ellen Gould

Southport

Peter Petron

Easton

Timothy H. Smith

Southport