A barn at 45 Kings Highway North might become an accessory dwelling unit. / 2019 Screenshot from Google Maps.
A barn at 45 Kings Highway North might become an accessory dwelling unit. / 2019 screenshot, Google Maps.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — A couple met with the Historic District Commission on Tuesday to discuss plans to update a centuries-old barn for an accessory dwelling unit.

Mary and Mark Hanrahan had a pre-application hearing with the commission to discuss the historic structure on their 45 Kings Highway North property.

A pre-application hearing is a non-binding discussion that allows a potential applicant to run their plans by a town body and obtain feedback.

The commission, which has purview over the Kings Highway North Historic District, appeared supportive of the plans, but had one sticking point: Members wanted to see the doors of the barn — possibly dating to 1800 or so and said to be in very poor condition — preserved in some way or replicated.

The project is the latest among several recent examples of local property owners seeking permission to either repurpose or rebuild historic structures that once were barns. Those other plans are proposed on Elmstead Lane and North Avenue.

“I think you have a real treasure there,” said commission member Wendy Van Wie, who lives in a historic barn herself. “And it also says there’s a smokehouse circa 1800.”

Mark Hanrahan said it’s still there, and on the survey.

“Here’s it’s called a cottage, but it was a smokehouse,” Mary Hanrahan said. “It still has the chimney.”

Commission member Martha Eidman, who lives a couple doors away on a property that also has historic structures, had advice on the barn doors.

“While they aren’t salvageable, if they can be reproduced or assimilated in some way to save that reference point,” she said.

“I think barns are effective when they’re renovated to remain as barns, versus taking a barn and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” said Elizabeth Bolognino, a new member of the commission.

“So, whatever we can do for this particular project to remain and keep some sort of significance … So you can tell that it was a barn, that you’re still renovating it to pay homage to that, I think whatever we can do, we should do.”

“And I totally agree about those doors, if there’s a way to recreate it somehow,” Bolognino added.

Eidman also said it might be possible some of the wood from the existing doors could be used to rebuild them, or that wood from an interior feature being altered could be utilized.

Mary Hanrahan said the barn doors are not original, but didn’t know when they were installed.

Acting Chairman Scott Springer said there probably isn’t a lot of the barn that is original.

Tuesday evening's special meeting of the Historic District Commission to discuss conversion of a barn, perhaps dating to 1800, to an accessory dwelling unit.
Tuesday evening’s special meeting of the Historic District Commission to discuss conversion of a barn, perhaps dating to 1800, to an accessory dwelling unit.

“Inside it is,” Mary Hanrahan said. “Inside it’s beautiful.”

That, she said, was after they removed rodent and racoon debris, and some 60 years’ worth of junk.

“We don’t actually know when any of it was built …” Springer said. “There’s not one kind of historical document that’s saying what this building was originally.”

“That’s where the struggle is for me,” Springer said. “These elevations, while I think they’re compatible with the district, they take the building in a much different direction.”

Van Wie weighed in again.

“Before they changed the doors, I thought it was a great project, I think it’s a great property,” she said. “I’m glad that they’re repairing it and it’s a wonderful thing. I do have a bit of a hang-up about the doors just going away.”

Springer said he’d be OK with some newer elements being removed to help solve interior problems.

“So, it’s a bit of a challenge, but I think at the very least saving these barn doors would help quite a bit,” he said.

Eidman asked for clarification on “saving.”

“If they were replaced with new wooden doors that matched the old ones, and were stationary, I could get behind that,” Springer said.

“We actually love the doors,” Mary Hanrahan said. “And have loved the doors since we decided that we wanted to buy the house.”

Springer said the time allotted for the special meeting had run out, but that he was sure his fellow commission members would be glad to hold another meeting in the future.

“Is the sense of the meeting that we are very appreciative that they’re redoing the barn, but we’re just kind of stuck on the barn doors?” Van Wie asked.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” Springer said.

Thane Grauel, executive editor, grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond more than three decades. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.