July 6, 2022

Essex Selectmen Consider Scaling Back Town Delay of Demolition Ordinance

ESSEX— The board of selectmen is considering amendments that would scale back the requirements of the town’s delay of demolition ordinance for historic structures. The board discussed the ordinance at a meeting Wednesday, and is expected to discuss specific changes o the ordinance at the next meeting on Jan. 8.

The ordinance was approved at a October 2004 town meeting at the urging of longtime town historian and author Donald Malcarne, who died in 2009. It requires public notice of intent to demolish any structure in Essex that more than 75 years old, and allows the Essex Historical Society, or any other resident, to petition for a 90 days delay of demolition.

Malcarne, responding to the demolition of a handful of older homes in town in the early 2000s, had contended the ordinance would give preservationists time to explore alternatives to demolition, or at least document the structure for the town’s historic record. The fine for a property owner ignoring the ordinance was only $100.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said he favors pushing back the historic date when the ordinance and related public notice requirements would be triggered to 1900. Under the existing ordinance, the date when the ordinance requirements are effective would be 1936. The year was 1927 when the ordinance was adopted in 2004.

“1900 is better than a rolling 75 years, Needleman said, adding the requirements of the ordinance have become “onerous” for some property owners in recent years. “It’s the law of unintended consequences,” he said.

Needleman also suggested revising the ordinance to specify that both the Essex Historical Society and the appointed town historian would be required to file an objection to trigger the 90 days delay of demolition, rather than simply any town resident. Selectman Bruce Glowac said he is open to revising the ordinance, while adding that Malcarne’s intentions were good when he pushed for adoption of the ordinance nearly a decade ago. “Historic houses were being torn down and nobody knew it was going to happen,” he said. Any amendments to the delay of demolition ordinance would require approve from voters at a town meeting.

In other business, the selectmen appointed Jae Wolf, a Deep River resident, as animal control officer. Wolf replace Belden Libby, who resigned from the part-time position last month.

Libby, husband of Selectwoman Stacia Libby, had been hired in June after the retirement of longtime animal control officer Joseph Heller. Needleman said Wolf is an animal lover who applied for the position, which includes an annual stipend and use of a town vehicle for calls.