Devin Colman, state architectural historian, at the meeting Thursday
The Winooski property known as "the mansion" will remain on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places after all, which could complicate a plan to tear it down.
A 4-1 vote Thursday by the Vermont Advisory Council on Historic Preservation likely means a development planned for the property will be reevaluated, according to an architect on the project. Owner Jeff Mongeon wants to demolish the circa 1803 building to make way for a 75-unit apartment building.
"Please don’t be the ones to sign this old building’s death warrant," said Winooski resident and attorney Joe Gamache. "Please don’t do that.”
“This is a residential dwelling of incomparable historical value to the town," said Joe Perron, president of the Winooski Historical Society.
“There are only a few historical buildings remaining in Winooski and the mansion house is one of them,’’ said George Cross, former superintendent of Winooski schools and former state legislator. “There really is no good reason to delist it."
After the vote, the champions of the building shook hands, smiled and celebrated. Although listing does not prohibit demolition, it likely will require more review and permitting at the local and regional level.
Mongeon quickly left the room after the vote and declined comment when Seven Days approached himin the hallway. "Not in the mood," Mongeon said as he headed to the elevators.
The lead architect on the project, David Roy, had urged the council to stick with its earlier finding. After the decision, Roy said the vote presents a "major hurdle." He continued: "We'll have to sit down and assess and reevaluate the development potential of the site. "
Mongeon sought delisting last year. The council voted 4-0 in December to delist the property on the grounds that alterations had erased its architectural significance.
But members of the public became aware of the delisting and demolition proposal in April. They further learned that the December meeting and a prior one in November had not been noticed properly. Mailings that should have been sent to the mayor of Winooski and several other officials weren't, according to Devin Colman, state architectural historian.
As a result, the delisting was rescinded. The mansion was technically still on the state register at the start of Thursday's meeting. The council then took a new vote on a motion to delist, and this time the majority voted no.
Members Blaine Cliver, Joseph Luneau, David Donath and Paul Wyncoop voted against delisting. Only chair Ed Clark voted in favor of delisting.
The council considered the matter for more than an hour, listening to public comment and then a presentation from Colman going over his reasons for recommending delisting.
But several members of the council were swayed by arguments that, while architectural details of the structure had been altered, it retains historical importance because of its prominence in the city and because of who has lived there. Francis Childs, who was a close colleague of the nation's founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, lived there, as did F.C. Kennedy, general agent for Burlington Woolen Company, which acquired the house in 1862.
The property "has a lot to say" about Winooski's mill period," said Luneau. He suggested that had the council heard as much testimony on the delisting at last year's meetings, it might have made a different determination.
Meanwhile Perron, of the Winooski Historical Society, said he was heartened to see a "groundswell" of support for the mansion. But he suggested the work to protect it might not be done. "It still hangs in the balance."