Despite possible injunction from attorney general's office, Bridgewater First Selectman proceeding with measures to take down Grange

Bridgewater Grange hall

Bridgewater Grange hall

H John Voorhees III / Reporter

BRIDGEWATER — A injunction is being considered by the state’ attorney general against the town of Bridgewater for its decision to move forward in demolishing the Grange building.

At the town’s recent Board of Selectmen meeting, there was a unanimous vote to prepare the bidding documents to take down the Grange. The town will likely go out to bid in early September, after the Sept. 14 Board of Selectmen meeting, according to First Selectman Curtis Read.

The over five-year-long dispute, which has involved the town and a group called The Bridgewater Preservation Association (BPA), is over whether Grange Hall, a historic landmark in town, should be renovated or torn down and have a community center built in its place.

The BPA had presented a plan to purchase the Grange from the town for $1 and restore it. After a town-wide vote in May against the BPA taking ownership of the Grange, Read said he was under the impression he could then move forward with the town’s plans to tear down the building.

In a letter to Todd Levine, historian at the State Historic Preservation Office in Hartford, Read said when taking the building down, he would “salvage usable wood for re-use...save large granite stones, clean up the residual oil contaminated soil... and then fill and level the site as preparation for potential future use(s).”

However, instead of agreeing with Read’s plan, Levine requested Read put the Grange up for sale for six months. Levine said the selling price would be the cost of the town’s investment into the maintenance of the building over the lifetime of its ownership, or the current appraisal worth, whichever is higher.

Levine’s letter also stated that the listing of the Grange will include “the limitations of the site in regards to the septic. The municipality will take care of the oil contamination, as you stated throughout this process. Preservation CT will hire an independent appraiser, so there is no cost to the municipality.”

Additionally, Levine wrote if the Grange isn’t sold within six months of being on the market, “we will determine that all possible prudent and feasible alternatives have been attempted” and

Read would be then able to move ahead with tearing down the building.

“I told them I didn’t agree with it,” Read said, citing “overreach” as his reason — in regard to Levine’s suggestion. “This way, the ball is in their court and they know and they have to be prepared to defend themselves legally.”

In a recent telephone conversation, Levine said the matter is being taken up by Attorney General William Tong’s office.

“Right now, the attorney general’s office needs to make a determination on what they’re going to do next,” Levine said. “The option is to either do nothing or move forward with an injunction.”

The law that’s being reviewed by Tong’s office is the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, which states an historic house or building can’t be taken down if there are “prudent or feasible alternatives” to save it, Levine said.

According to Preservation CT, the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act allows anyone to sue to prevent “the unreasonable destruction of historic structures and landmarks of the state,” defined as buildings on the National Register of Historic Places — which the Grange is on.

Kathleen McWilliams, deputy director of communications at the Office of the Attorney General, said the matter is now being reviewed by Tong.

Levine additionally said a structural engineer had previously looked at the Grange building “and said the building can be saved.”

He referenced the Historic Preservation Council meeting of the State Historic Preservation Office Department Of Economic And Community Development in September 2018, of which Hearst Connecticut Media obtained the transcription.

In the document, architects spoke both for and against whether or not the Grange could be saved.

Additionally at that meeting, Brad Schide, circuit rider for the Connecticut Trust Historic Preservation, said “In 2016, there was a large community meeting vote that gave the First Selectman the authority to either demolish or rehab (the Grange).”

sfox@milfordmirror.com