A prominent home known as the Wheaton-Alexander House (pdf), built in 1810, at 71 Main Street in Winchester, New Hampshire faces the wrecking ball to make way for a Dollar General. Yes, that’s right . . . a Dollar General. This feels like deju vu since we recently wrote about two homes in Lancaster, New Hampshire facing the same fate to make way for a Family Dollar. Are dollar stores the wave of the future?
At any rate, this proposal has caused quite a stir in town. The town’s Historic District Commission first voted to deny the demolition but has been recently over-ruled by the town’s Zoning Board. According to a story from the Keene Sentinel:
A Winchester board now says a Main Street house in the town’s historic district can be demolished to make way for a new store.
The zoning board voted unanimously Thursday night to allow the 200-year-old house to be torn down, with a condition: the town’s historic district commission must first approve plans for the new building, and any other necessary approvals must be secured.
The board had been asked to reconsider a decision by the town’s historic district commission, which in July denied an application by a developer hoping to replace the house with a Dollar General store.
However, this process has apparently stirred the angst of many members of the community as witnessed by this letter-to-the-editor in the Keene Sentinel:
In Winchester, there’s an old house in the historic district that’s owned by a woman who works for the town and is on a number of boards, who wants to tear this house down and put up a Dollar General.
The property is on Main Street and sits between the community center and the VFW. The house is one of the first buildings in Winchester (from the 1700s) and she wants to put in its place a monstrosity of a building that looks like any other strip mall store in the country.
When she bought the property, she knew it was in the historic district, but now she wants the historic district board to ignore the fact that her building would disrupt the historical cohesion among the district’s buildings.
There is also a brand new Family Dollar store in town that was built outside of the district in an existing shopping center.
She sent her lawyer to a historic district meeting who asked that a certain historic district board member not be allowed to deliberate on her application because of possible “animosity” that could spill over from the planning board, where both women serve and where the woman who has the building has started the process to have the other removed from the planning board.
To follow-up on that last paragraph, one has to wonder about a conflict of interest between the owner of the property and the planning board. From the first story:
Margaret A. Sharra, one of the owners of the house and its 4-acre lot, said she is “satisfied that the zoning board did a thorough and professional job” looking at the case.
Sharra, who sits on the town planning board and serves as an administrative assistant to the planning and zoning boards, owns the house with her two brothers, James S. Shannon of Winchester and Michael P. Shannon of Connecticut.
Things that make you go, hhhmmmmm . . .
Potential political shenanigans aside, this looks like a bad move for Winchester. While the house is not itself on the historic register, it is in an historic district. As such, a large retail outlet would have a severe negative impact on the overall neighborhood with an inappropriate building (both size and architecture), a parking lot and resulting traffic. For what . . . approximately 8 to 10 retail jobs.
We aren’t against jobs, but preserving an intact historic district can be a job machine as well via tourism. Historic homes don’t just grow on trees . . . you’ve got what you’ve got and Winchester is not exactly a big town (population 4,431 as of 2010). Take a look for yourself in the Google Map below.
Ultimately, this is about who will bear the costs of this property’s neglect. Will it be the current owners who can’t afford to fix it up . . . or will it be the neighbors who will see a reduction in their home’s value having to live next to “strip mall USA?” Keep in mind, the house is sound and has not been condemned. The current owners could move in or continue to rent it as a multi-unit apartment house.
As such, we say the owners had full knowledge of the home’s history and location in an historic district (they did want to open a B&B after all). Fix up the home or find someone who will.
What are you thoughts?