Proposed home designed after Gorham’s Mill sparks history debate
A proposed house on Ring’s End Road meant to imitate a historic Darien landmark has drawn the ire of local residents for its design. The owners of the property at 102 Rings End Road has petitioned the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to allow a two and a half story home exceeding existing zoning density requirements.
The property is designed to mimic Gorham’s Mill, a historic building depicted on Darien’s town seal and in a number of classic images of the town. Originally constructed in 1708, the building was once considered the center of town, sitting on the edge of Rings End Bridge. The property suffered from a fire in three years ago, raising the need for a new design that was FEMA compliant.
Because of the unique nature of the site area and FEMA requirements the owners are seeking zoning allowances from the ZBA. However, a group of neighbors shared their objections to the large box mill style design proposed to the board during an April 5 meeting.
Town historian Marian Castell suggested that the area of Gorham’s Pond and Rings End Bridge could be designated as a village to protect historic landmarks and aesthetics in the neighborhood, something she said was happening in towns like New Canaan and Greenwich. Two neighboring properties, at 90 and 94 Rings End Road, are listed on the Connecticut Inventory of historic places, 90 Rings End is also designated as a town landmark.
“It’s a major focal point for all of the Gorham’s Pond area,” Castell said of the property. “This district qualifies as a major historical district in Darien. Because as you know, this district has a lot of 18th and 19th Century homes and also has an amazing scenic vista which includes the pond and the falling water, the beautiful bridge.”
Though ZBA Chairman Michael Nedder said designating villages was outside the purview of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Castell was also one of many opposed the design of the new home. She said the building was unlikely to match the visual design of the historic mill it was inspired by and the large box design would not match the existing homes in the area.
“I’m afraid that the large box shape that has been proposed fits commercial needs but not the residential zones around it,” she said, a sentiment that was echoed by a number of neighbors to the property during the meeting.
While a some of those objecting to the design acknowledged the irregular nature of the property, there was a call for town officials to protect the historical aesthetics of Ring’s End Road and the homes near Gorham’s Pond.
A neighbor next door to the property, Fred Elliot said he was in support of the project and felt that some of the public response to the stated design was inappropriate prior to seeing architectural renderings. Elliot said he spoke to a town zoning employee outside of the home in February about the new design outside of his home. According to Elliot the employee compared the design to a hotel and said the plan was “totally unacceptable.”
“I felt almost bullied by the aggressive manner and delivery of the individual,” Elliot said. “It was evident he wanted to change my stance on the proposal. While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, to me it seems inappropriate for a town employee to be openly hostile towards a project and to try and solicit opposition of the same nature.”
He continued, “change is inevitable, change for the better requires courage and strong leadership. This proposal recognizes the history of our town while creating a nice family dwelling. This proposal has our complete support.”