Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

Connecticut Environmental Protection Act

The State of Connecticut has a law specifically protecting historic buildings from destruction.  The Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, or EPA allows citizens to sue to prevent "the unreasonable destruction of historic structures and landmarks of the state," defined as buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.To review the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act: CT General Statutes Sections Title 22a, Chapter 439, Section 22a-15 to 22a-19b, please use the link provided at the bottom of the page.

How it works: According to the statue, private parties may file suit to prevent the demolition of historic buildings.  But most often it is the State Historic Preservation Office that is involved in activating the EPA.There is no formal mechanism for informing the SHPO of proposals to demolish buildings listed on the Register.  A few towns provide notice; others tell property owners that they must contact the Commission.  Generally it has been by word of mouth that Commission becomes aware of such proposals.

When SHPO does become aware of a proposed demolition, the staff asks the owner to explain it at a meeting of the Commission.  The SHPO determines if the proposed is reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances associated with that particular property.  The Commission generally asks a series of questions* and request specific information concerning the project to determine if there are "feasible and prudent alternatives to the demolition."  If the Commissioners decide that the request to demolish is unreasonable, they may vote to ask the Connecticut Attorney General to seek an injunction preventing the demolition.

Connecticut is fortunate to have a preservation tool as powerful as the EPA. In order to effectively use it local support is crucial. Not only does the SHPO often rely on local preservationists to let it know when National Register buildings are threatened, the state also looks for local support in deciding whether or not to take an EPA case.  The Commission does sometimes see itself as an advocate for buildings that have no other friends. But well organized local support always strengthens the case for preservation.

Not all cases have to go to trial.  The EPA can serve as a bargaining chip even when there is no legal action.  The review procedure alone can provide an opportunity to persuade owners to find a way to avoid demolition.

The procedure can also provide time for local activists to organize.  However preservationist must be willing to compromise.  The focus of the EPA is unreasonable destruction of natural and historic resources.  While developers and property owners- unfortunately the courts- tend to define reasonableness solely in terms of maximizing profits, owners are entitled to use their property for gain.  Preservationists need to be able to demonstrate that there are realistic uses for threatened historic buildings.

Sometimes it simply isn't feasible to save the building.  But the EPA may provide leverage that can be used to obtain concessions to protect an area's historic character: better architectural or landscape design, thorough documentation of the building before it is torn down, salvage of important parts, or an offer to allow the building to be moved to another site, maybe even with some of the cost of demolition thrown in for an incentive.

Be sure the truly important places are listed.  The EPA only applies to buildings that are listed on or under consideration for the National Register.  It's sometimes possible to get a National Register nomination through in time to save a building, but such cases are rare.Furthermore, last-minute designations are usually seen by would be developers as hostile acts, making them less willing to compromise.  Its better to make sure that everything you care about is listed before the threats appear.  Local historical and preservation organizations, and even individuals can sponsor a nomination.

UPDATE:

In 2011, the case of Connecticut Historical Commission (Commission on Culture & Tourism) v. Town of Wallingford gave preservationists an important victory when Judge Robert Berdon blocked the town from demolishing a house in the Wallingford National Register district. In a departure from some other decisions, Judge Berdon ruled that the high cost of rehabilitation was not, by itself, sufficient reason to justify tearing down the house. A link to the decision is below.
 

Connecticut Environmental Policy Act

Policy/Legislation