MADISON — A dilapidated antique home that is a local landmark downtown and whose fate has been uncertain for many years will be slated for demolition if developers get approval for their plans.
But, the architect for the developers plans on designing a new and improved replica of the historic structure with some modern additions not visible from the street.
The General’s Residence at Madison, LLC’s proposal to raze the main building and develop the land around the General’s Residence at 908 Boston Post Road and the adjoining property at 916 Boston Post Road will be discussed at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, set for Thursday, May 21 at 7 p.m. via ZOOM.
The property was acquired by owners/developers, Adam Greenberg and Timothy Herbst, under the business name the General’s Residence at Madison, LLC, in October 2019 for about $1.8 million.
The plan is to put two housing units in the newly-constructed building which would replace the General’s residence and 7 smallish homes on the rest of the property in a cluster development. These homes will not be built in the scale of many of the sprawling houses built in town in recent years.
Demolition of the building is an important part of the project for Greenberg and Herbst, due to the deterioration of the approximately 3,600-square-feet building over the years.
“The center of the building is severely structurally deficient,” said Madison Building Official Vincent Garofalo.
“It’ll have to be torn, down,” he added. “It’s not savable.”
Garofalo was in the General’s Residence about three weeks ago and was ready to file the order of unsafe structure on Thursday, May 7.
“They will have to fence off the building so that nobody can enter it,” he added. “There’s portions of it that I even wouldn’t walk through and if I’m uneasy, that’s really not good.”
While the Madison Historical Society understands the need to demolish the building, they expressed their regret of the circumstances that led to this proposal.
“We are saddened and disappointed to learn that this handsome, iconic structure is beyond repair,” said Madison Historical Society Board President Mark Edmiston, in an email.
“We had hoped that the building could be saved, but decades of neglect have caused such severe structural damage that restoration seems impossible.
“We are hopeful the new developers are mindful of the significant loss to the town's heritage as they design a replacement, and we look forward to seeing their formal design application,” he added.
Greenberg explained that his group understands and appreciates the house’s history and hired Tod Bryant of Heritage Resources to research the property and take detailed photographs.
This documentation will show “all the history and all the pictures and everything that this property has been. We’re documenting it and, once again, we’re creating the exact replica, but we’re also going to showcase and let it live forever,” said Greenberg.
Bryant worked with the town, during the renovation of E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, prior to the demolition of the Hull Building on Wall Street.
Greenberg and Herbst have been in discussions with a group of about 11 neighbors who have been very vocal about their concern about this development.
As for demolition of the building, while neighbor Robin Phillips said, “It was a surprise,” he is not opposed to this proposal.
“If they built the replica in the way that they were describing yesterday I think it would be OK, I think,” he said.
Architect Duo Dickinson is working closely with the developers to do just that.
“Even though my buildings can be interesting and interpretive and all the rest, the history is exquisitely important to me…” he said.
He explained that while the north, east and west sides of the building will be exact replicas, the south side will have an L-shaped addition to accommodate the proposed units within the structure. This will bring the structure to over 4,000-square-feet.
“The three sides that actually face Route 1 are going to be made new, but we’re saving the front entry way, the columns on the porch, a side door, maybe some mantels…some corner cabinets,” he explained.
“I also said, if we can, because the building is a neat old building, there are going to be some really nice timbers in there,” he added. “So, we’re definitely going to do that,” he said about saving some of the original wood.
Dickinson will be working closely with the Madison Historical Society and the Madison Historic Commission.
The most recent ZOOM meeting, on Wednesday, May 6 was “quite a good call,” said Phillips. “We still don’t agree on a number of things, so there are some hurdles here.”
These include concerns about density of the development, overall project design, wetlands protection, landscaping and traffic flow patterns.
While Phillips said the group believes they can resolve some of the issues, he said the architectural design is something they probably will not resolve with the developers.
Phillips said the work of local architect Duo Dickinson is “totally inappropriate” for this site.
“It doesn’t fit with the neighborhood,” he said.
“It’s not New England style buildings, so I think for most people that is problematic and Dickinson isn’t budging on that,” Phillips added.
Dickinson described his proposal.
“We’re trying to make, effectively a little community within a village,” he said. “So, we’re making the building, just to its east be at the same level as the building that is there now (General’s Residence) and we’re calling it the carriage house.
“It’ll be a building that is white … probably it will look like an outbuilding that was built in the 19th century, when this building was built maybe in the late 18th century,” he added.
The other six building will be in clusters of two and Dickinson is working on the design with input from others.
“How do we make these buildings be wonderful and exciting for the people that will purchase them, also fit and feel good for the people who have to live with them, the neighbors and also feel good for the greater town,” he explained.
In addition, Phillips added, the density of the project and the changes that Greenberg and Herbst are proposing is too much.
“We’ve gone from this original concept that the Planning & Zoning started discussing over a couple years ago now, about small cluster cottage-like developments to a set of units which are basically the size of the average American home.”
The plan calls for two units within the proposed rebuilt main house, with seven other units, a story and half in height.
Developers propose increasing the size of each unit, previously approved by Planning & Zoning under a different plan from another developer, from 1,850-square-feet to 2,250-square-feet. Three units will have garages, and the rest will have car ports.
Interestingly, the original house may have a checkered past but with some bright spots in later years.
Bob Gunderson, a Madison Historical Society Trustee, wrote about the history of the building for the ShoreLine Times when the house went into foreclosure March 2017 (bit.ly/2WkHh7B).
Gunderson notes in the story that Capt. Edward Griffin of Killingworth bought the house in 1799 and either rebuilt it or built around it. The house then had ties to the slave trade.
He wrote: “The architectural studies are uncertain, but the assortment of stories about Griffin himself are noteworthy — and often sordid.”
“Part of Capt. Griffin’s substantial income may have derived from the slave trade. The story is told that he was holding two slaves in the basement of his house when he heard revenue officers were coming to assess his property. He walled the slaves up in the cellar and left them to die. When his estate was sold off, the wall was removed, and two skeletons were found. Some say that these two poor souls haunt the place still.”
The house changed hands frequently and was empty from 1895 until 1909, when newlyweds Martha Hale (whose family owned it) and Lt. William Wright Harts.
“Used primarily as their summer residence, the house presumably offered relief from the heat of Nashville, where the lieutenant was posted. Harts, who graduated from West Point in 1889 and began service with the Corps of Engineers, ultimately became a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. He was involved in a large variety of construction projects, including river and harbor improvements, locks and dams, and army camps.
“During WWI, he acted as military aide to President Woodrow Wilson, and he served with the British and French in the 6th U.S. Engineering Regiment. Highly decorated, he also served as chief of staff in the Army of Occupation, in Germany, in 1919 and 1920, and as military attaché in the American embassy in Paris from 1926 to 1930.”
Over the years the original home has been added onto and in the late 20th century, was operated as a wedding dress shop, a restaurant and a bakery.
Phillips added that while he and his fellow neighbors still have concerns, they are not against the project.
“We support the development,” said Phillips. “We’re behind the development now. We want it done right for the neighbors, right for the town, right for the developer.
“This is going to be the model, this is the first cluster development in town,” added Phillips, “so it’s going to be the model.”