With an Eye to Protection, HDC to Study Bruce Park “Local Historic Property” Designation

The Board of Selectmen voted on Thursday to appoint the town’s Historic District Commission to launch a study about designating Bruce Park a local historic property.

Bruce Park is Greenwich’s oldest public park, established in 1908 through a bequest of Robert Moffat Bruce.

The idea for the designation surfaced last April when First Selectman Fred Camillo suggested removing the Parks & Rec shed and machine shop from Roger Sherman Baldwin Park where it sits on the waterfront blocking potential views, and relocating its operations to the Mosquito Barn in Bruce Park.

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Trees along a path in Bruce Park. Photo: Leslie Yager

Camillo said Bruce Park neighbors in Mead Point and on Indian Chase were concerned because the park was already a cut through for traffic and they didn’t want the additional use.

“I assured them we were not going to move the operations there,” Camillo explained. “But they were concerned.”

Camillo said Greenwich had removed two work sheds from the park alrady. One was removed from the end of Kinsman Lane in the 1950s, and a second shed that housed showers and locker rooms was also removed.

“We’re really protected that park over the years, and I suggested we move to get the whole park designated as a historic area,” he said.

The town has felt protective of Bruce Park in recent years, starting with Eversource’s proposal in 2015 to run utility lines under the pond with a method called horizontal drilling. That resulted in an uproar. The goal was to connect 2.3 miles of transmission lines connecting the new sub station on Railroad Ave to Cos Cob.

Mosquito barn located in Bruce Park. Photo: Leslie Yager

Ultimately the lines were incorporated into a large green pedestrian footbridge that surprised residents because it hadn’t required approval from the town.

Eversource worked exclusively through DPW.

During that bridge building process, there was concern about the whereabouts and safekeeping of the historic Davis Mill grist stone stone that for years was perched along the banks of the pond, though it turned out DPW had removed it and put it in a safe place.

Anne Young, staff person for HDC, said the Local Historic Property designation would be recognized by the state of Connecticut.

“That truly gives the municipality where the local historic property or local historic district is located control over proposed changes,” she said.

She also said Greenwich already had four local historic properties and three local historic districts.

“But this would be the first park to be recognized as such,” she said. “We ask that the BOS nominate the HDC as the study committee for this process.”

Mr. Camillo noted that in a similar effort, a scenic loop was designated around Binney Park last year.

Ms Young said the study would indicate the property’s boundaries, architectural history, and its social history.

The report would then be submitted to the state and the P&Z commission for input.

“With each step of the way there are various opportunities for the pubic to weigh in,” she promised.

Lastly, the report would go to the RTM for ratification.

A group of residents have offered to underwrite the cost of hiring an architectural historian to research and write the report so its cost would not come from town funds.

Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan asked what benefits the designation would bring, and what restrictions would result for the park. She also wondered if the Mosquito Barn would be protected.

Ms Young said the town’s POCD encourages identifying historic properties and areas and seek appropriate historic designations, such as Register of Historic Places, CT State Register or Historic Overlay, and that when a change is proposed to a property with Historic Property designation, a certificate of appropriateness is required.

Eversource’s pedestrian bridge under construction in Bruce Park. July 2, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

She said that would have been relevant back when Eversource’s pedestrian footbridge was proposed.

While the bridge was necessary, as it houses utility lines that otherwise would have gone under the pond, many felt the bridge design was not in keeping with the other stone bridges in the park.

Young said if the park had had the historic designation, Eversource would have had to seek a certificate of appropriateness for their bridge design. She explained that would not have prohibited the bridge altogether, but rather determined whether the design was appropriate.

She said the Greenwich Arts Council has a well planned process for placing sculpture in the park, and that could be continued.

The Selectmen voted unanimously to greenlight the HDC launching the study.

A new pedestrian bridge spans the pond in Bruce Park, and houses Eversource transmission lines underneath. Photo: Leslie Yager