Thursday, October 28, 2021

Local News

New Proposal Before Deep River’s PZC to Redevelop Historic Mill Building

A plan to revitalize a historic mill building and property at 112 West Elm Street (aka 2 Esico Lane) in Deep River is currently before the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC).

A public hearing on the plan, which initially sought to expand current zoning regulations to allow for retail and museum use for the property, took place at a meeting of the PZC on Jan. 21.

The application was well received by the commission; however, there was discussion among commission members at the meeting regarding the best way to work within the town’s existing regulations for the project.

Based on feedback received at the meeting, “we are asking for a special exception now,” said Allison Sloane, the applicant, in email correspondence with the Courier.

Sloane, who runs the non-profit Pandemonium Rainforest Project, a bird and reptile rescue and rehabilitation program, at her floral shop, Ashleigh’s Garden, at 500 Main Street in Deep River, has proposed relocating the Pandemonium Thrift Shop, also at 500 Main Street, to 112 West Elm Street.

In addition to restoring the building and moving her retail space there, Sloane intends to house the parrots and several reptiles of the Pandemonium Rainforest Project in a new facility on the property.

The animals, many of which were neglected before being rescued by Pandemonium, would be rehabilitated at the facility. The Pandemonium Rainforest Project, working from the facility, also would work to to educate the public about the attention and care required for exotic animals.

Sloane, with Kim Olson, who is a longtime volunteer for the Pandemonium Rainforest Project, are purchasing 112 West Elm Street.

“We had to pull together and put in a bid when we did, so that we would not lose the building,” said Sloane.

An earlier bid had come in, said Sloane, and “his plans were to tear down the mill and put up apartment buildings.”

The building is considered a significant landmark, steeped in the town’s history as an important manufacturer of ivory products.

“In this case, the future of this historic site will be recycled and reused and will stand as a testament to the grandness of Deep River’s heritage,” according to a letter signed by Dennis and Kathleen Schultz in support of Sloane’s application, submitted at the Jan. 21 public hearing.

Originally constructed in 1856 by the Pratt Brothers Co. to manufacture ivory combs, the building later became “the ‘West’ factory of Pratt Read and Co., where ivory was cut and bleached for combs, keys, collar buttons, and various notions,” according to Preservation Connecticut at connecticutmills.org.

An Eye Toward Preservation

The current proposal before the PZC retains much of the building’s historic character. However, the town currently has limited option were that not to be the case. A review of the town’s zoning regulations by the PZC found that a new ordinance is required to grant the town the authority it needs to delay demolition of a building or structure in town.

“The state statute requires that the demolition delay be an ordinance, not a regulation, so in order to give this existing regulation the authority that it needs, we need the town to adopt an ordinance,” said John Guszkowski of CHA Consulting and co-zoning enforcement officer for Deep River, at a Jan. 26 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting.

The “original intent of that was for historical purposes,” said Jonathan Kastner, a regular member of the town’s PZC, at a Jan. 12 BOS meeting.

Kastner added later, on Jan. 12, that the existing regulation did not come up often, but that having the authority to delay demolition would potentially help the town preserve historic structures.

“It doesn’t get a lot of use, but it is nice to have something like that and maybe a little more activity on the town to help find a buyer,” said Kastner.

The parameters and exact wording of the ordinance are currently in review with the town attorney’s office. Once finalized, the ordinance would require a town meeting, which First Selectman Angus McDonald said, at the Jan. 26 BOS meeting, could potentially occur at the annual town meeting later this year.


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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