'Total overreach': Bridgewater in conflict with state over Grange Hall's future

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
The Bridgewater Grange Hall building

The Bridgewater Grange Hall building

H John Voorhees III / Reporter

BRIDGEWATER — A five-year saga of whether or not to save a historic building is not over, despite a townwide vote on the issue.

The ongoing dispute, which involves the town and a group called The Bridgewater Preservation Association, involves Grange Hall and whether it should be renovated or torn down and replaced with a community center.

The BPA previously presented a plan to purchase the Grange from the town and restore it. After a townwide vote May 20 against the BPA taking ownership of the Grange, First Selectman Curtis Read initially planned to go out to bid and prepare the Grange building for demolition. However, that may not happen.

“I wrote State Historic Commission Representative Todd Levine, asking if we can proceed to demolition now that the vote has occurred and the people have spoken,” Read said. “I was told the answer is ‘No.’”

Levine and the assistant attorney general said the town now has to put the Grange on the market for six months at the price that the town had put into the building over the past 20 years of ownership, according to Read.

Read said the state historic preservation commission offered to pay for an appraiser to determine what the Grange is worth.

The stipulations “seem to have come out of nowhere,” Read said. “They are totally arbitrary. (The historic commission) is changing the rules as they go along.”

He accused them of a “bait and switch.”

“They told me this was their normal process all along,” Read said. “They never did. It’s not in writing. The power of the state in this case is something that I feel was total overreach after all we’ve been through. ... Somebody’s got to be accountable somewhere along the line here. They can’t just keep passing the buck just because they feel like it.”

BPA President Neil Olshansky said the recent townwide vote was not to determine whether the building will be preserved or taken down, but rather “whether or not the town should sell the Grange Hall to the Bridgewater Preservation Association,” Olshansky said. “There was no vote ever on the actual survival of the building.”

On Friday, Read said his attorney’s legal opinion to the town said he has two options: “One (is) to comply with SHPO’s letter from Todd Levine, or go out to bid for demolition with historic wood salvage and then notify the state with the schedule so they would have to decide whether to intervene with an injunction.”

Read added it has always been the town’s plan to save “whatever wood is good — to reuse in the new building ... and be sensitive to our history.”

Levine could not be reached for comment Friday.

The town’s Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday will address this topic. The meeting will be recorded and can be accessed through the town’s website.

sfox@milfordmirror.com