NEWBURY — A controversial plan to demolish a historic home has been shelved, at least for now.
Property owners Brian and Tara Patrican have withdrawn their application to the town's Planning Board that, if approved, would have allowed them to redraw the property lines for their properties at 1 Little's Lane and 53 High Road. The plan called for demolishing the Tappan House, a circa-1800 large Federal-style home built by Revolutionary War privateer Offin Boardman for his son-in-law Amos Tappan, and redrawing the lot line through the center of the house site. The lot line change would have expanded the Patricans' backyard.
The Patricans now have a variety of options at their fingertips, provided by a group of local designers and architects who volunteered their time to draw up ways to save the house.
Town Planner Martha Taylor said yesterday that the application was withdrawn as the Patricans were "exploring other options" and that the issue was "off the table" for the time being. The request was set to be heard at tonight's meeting of the Planning Board.
When reached for comment, Brian Patrican said he was not ready to make a statement until he had "something accurate and concrete to say," noting that the issues surrounding the Little's Lane property were changing day to day.
This withdrawal is the latest of happenings with the Little's Lane property that the Patricans bought in October 2011 for $1.6 million and includes the Tappan House and a 4,276-square-foot barn. The 5.16 acre property abuts conservation land, the Patricans' home at 53 High Road, and the entrance to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm.
The Patricans secured a demolition and removal permit for the house and a carriage shed in November. However, the plans were not publicly known until mid-January, shortly before the demolition was slated to begin. It spurred an outcry of criticism from residents and preservationists. The carriage shed was demolished, but the house still stands, as does a large barn that was not slated for demolition.
Brian Patrican later explained that he offered the 12-room home, along with 2 acres of land and monetary assistance to relocate the home, to Historic New England, a nonprofit organization that operates the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, but they declined the offer.
Susanna Crampton, public relations officer for Historic New England, would not confirm or deny the Patricans' offer, but said in an emailed statement that Historic New England recommends that historic buildings be retained on their original locations and that demolition should be avoided whenever possible so that the community does not lose its historic resources. Additionally, she said that "ownership by a nonprofit organization is often not the right solution for preserving a historic house," as it requires a continued endowment that is often in the millions of dollars.
"A regional organization is not necessarily the answer to a local issue. Communities need to thoughtfully consider in advance solutions to protect those cultural resources worthy of preservation by conducting architectural surveys or inventories, and developing community zoning, local historic districts, area preservation commissions and demolition-delay ordinances," Crampton said. "In this case, those tools were not available to the community to take action."
Plans and restrictions
Another issue that has complicated the matter is a 2004 covenant that Historic New England secured on a portion of the Tappan House land. The covenant is meant to protect the appearance of the entry road to the Spencer-Peirce-Little House. The narrow old road is lined by enormous and stately trees, with open fields on either side. One of those fields belongs to the Tappan house, and the covenant prevents anything from being built on its 3 acres. It also prohibits subdivisions of the land.
Historic New England opposed redrawing the lot lines on the Little's Lane and High Road properties, requesting that the town's Planning Board take no action on the Patricans' request to do such, citing the covenant.
Crampton said in a written statement that the covenant was put into place to ensure that the Tappan parcel remains forever in its natural state.
"The covenant also protects against further development on Little's Lane, which is a private road owned by Historic New England," Crampton said. "The covenant was not created to protect, and does not protect, the privately owned Tappan House."
However, there are significant efforts quietly being made to save the Tappan House. A group of local design professionals put together alternative plans for the Patricans. The highly detailed plans include precise lot sketches of what the property would look like under each scenario.
Bill Harris, a Newburyport lawyer and the spokesman for the group, said the group submitted the plans to the Patricans this week for their consideration. The group had been following The Daily News' coverage of the demolition plans and wanted to volunteer a variety of alternatives to the Patricans to help preserve the house. Members of the group declined to be publicly identified.
The group's plans fall into two categories: leaving the house where it is and making physical changes to screen it from the Patricans' backyard, and moving the house to another location on the property.
The plan to leave the home in its present location calls for tree landscaping between the Patricans' pool area and the Tappan House. It also calls for attaching "Jamaica shutters" to the Tappan House windows that face the Patrican property. The shutters have a historical appearance and could have legal restrictions placed upon them that would prohibit their removal unless an agreement is reached. It includes three potential scenarios for moving lot lines in order to give the Patricans more land around their main house and creating a lot for the Tappan House that could be resold.
The plans to move the house would push it farther down Little's Lane, away from the Patricans' house. It would be located near the edge of the field that is protected by the covenant. The house could then be sold to a new owner, along with the field.