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Historic District Commission Minutes 10/02/2017
Historic District Commission Meeting Minutes

Regular Meeting
Monday, October 2, 2017


Place
Memorial Town Hall, 52 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT
Present
REGULAR: John Pfeiffer (Chairman), John Forbis (Vice Chairman), Dini Mallory
ALTERNATE: Cynthia Taylor, Jeff Cooley
Absent
Barbara Traskos
Agenda
9:00
Call to order, Quorum call, Approval of minutes, Communications
9:05
Public Open Forum
9:15
Plaque Program Update
90 Lyme St
9:30
Public Hearing: 32 Lyme Street, Cynthia Taylor, Driveway improvements
10:00
Secretary’s Report - Handbook update, Active CofAs, Town Report
10:15
Any other new or old business to come before the Commission (Congregational Church signs & banners)
10:30
Adjournment

A quorum being present, the meeting was called to order at 9:02 a.m. by Chairman John Pfeiffer who authorized Jeff Cooley to vote in place of Barbara Traskos.
John Forbis moved, seconded by Jeff Cooley, to approve the September minutes as presented. All present voted in favor, motion passed.

1. Communications: The HDC received a letter from Rev. Steven Jungkeit in response to the requests from the HDC to remove the signs from the First Congregational Church building and front lawn. The signs had been displayed for more than 30 days, which is the limit for temporary signage. The letter was read at the meeting:
        
        The First Congregational Church
        2 Ferry Road, Old Lyme CT 06371

        September 12, 2017
        
        Old Lyme Historical District Commission
        52 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT 06371

        Dear Members of the Historical District Commission,
        
        Thank you for your letters over the past months expressing concern over the signs in front of the       Congregational Church. For the most part, I’ve chosen not to worry over much about objections to our  signs. I take it as a matter of course. But the most recent letters do prompt a response. What follows is a     kind of virtual tour of the town, coupled with a plea.

        A few days ago I took a walk down Lyme Street, with the issue of signs and signage in mind. And I       noticed an incredible array of differing signs. There were signs advertising business and commerce.     There were quite a few advertising properties for sale. There were signs directing people in how to park,       and how to negotiate traffic. There were signs showing the hours for particular businesses, and, on the         ice cream shop, there were numerous signs of invitation and celebration about winning an award. There   were signs everywhere, all up and down Lyme Street.

        But those were only the most obvious signs. Other signs existed as well, most prominently the American  flags hung from every single telephone pole for nearly a mile, as if one might forget from moment to    moment, from pole to pole, what country one is passing through. The flags on the telephone poles are    then duplicated by numerous individuals and businesses along the street, as if they too felt residents and      passersby suffered from a form of geographic amnesia. The flags in Old Lyme are an overwhelming         form of signage, indicating a very precise set of values and priorities, and I paused to wonder how     carefully the historical commission had debated the message, historical accuracy, or aesthetic of the   town when placing one on each and every telephone pole on Lyme Street.

        A parenthetical word about that: flags are a polyvalent symbol, evoking different meanings and  associations for different viewers. But the lessons of the 19th and 20th centuries suggest that such overt,     and ostentatious, displays of nationalism should at the very least, be the occasion of careful  consideration, rather than a reflexive embrace. I’ve traveled throughout Europe, South America, and   the Middle East, and I can’t recall visiting any other countries that would display their nationalism so      nakedly. I suspect other parts of the world have learned the dangers of nationalism the hard way, and   thus refrain from those displays. This is a time when we might do well to recall our kinship with all         human beings, on all parts of the planet, and not only those belonging to our particular geographical   affiliation. That’s the sort of public pedagogy I witnessed on my walk down Lyme Street.

        Even so, the signs don’t end with the flags. The very architecture of the town is a powerful semiotic         statement. The houses, the official buildings, the shops, and the churches are all intricately renovated        and kept up to convey a powerful message. That architecture bespeaks the past. It bespeaks wealth and   resources. And it functions as a very subtle but clear sign indicating who belongs, and conversely, who         doesn’t. Most residents probably no longer see the signs arrayed all around them, embedded in the every       landscaping and design elements of the town. But all of it taken together constitutes a powerful sign, a         potent semiotic, that shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked.

        I saw all of those things on my walk – sign upon sign upon sign, all communicating what sort of       community exists in Old Lyme. Those signs all function as coordinates that guide and orient patterns of         life within the town, though in a way that most people probably no longer notice. Each of those signs is        imbued with a kind of politics, in the broadest sense of that word. Each of the signs I’ve mentioned  makes a case for how we are to organize our lives together, what we consider to be valuable, what’s   worth celebrating, and by extension, what isn’t. I worry sometimes – as a minister, as a parent, and as a   resident – about what, and who, is not publicly affirmed or celebrated in all of these signs. I worry, in  other words, about what is communicated to those who pass through Old Lyme.

        Which brings me to the signs displayed at the Congregational Church. In a town replete with signs of all        kind, some members of our church, some children from our Sunday School, and some students from the      Art Academy have constructed a few additional signs that are bold enough to remind people of the        obligation we have to our neighbors, of the obligation we have to those who are unlike most of the      residents of Old Lyme, and of the obligation we have to those who are exceedingly vulnerable in this    particular moment. The signs are a small, but I hope important, reminder that the issues surrounding    immigration, or sex and gender, or race, or Islamophobia, are anything but abstract, or “political.” For        many, those issues area matter of life and death. The signs are humble, to be sure, but they’re made in a     spirit of hospitality, of generosity, of welcome, and of love. That such signs should be the cause of   consternation among some of our residents is disappointing at best. It’s quite troubling at worst.
        
        I’ve heard those voices. I’ve received those letters. Sometimes they sting. I’m grateful, however, that   they represent a minority of the perspectives I’ve heard. Most say that they’re proud to see those signs in         Old Lyme. Most say it offers a sense of reassurance in very troubling times. I’m glad for that.

        Here is the best defense I can offer for the signs. Earlier this spring, a woman who frequents our food         pantry approached us with a dilemma. She lived in Old Lyme, and her daughter is a student at the high   school. But she, the mother, was here without documentation, and had been threatened with immediate     deportation. She wondered if we might be able to help. “What made you come to us,” we asked? The    response: “It was your sign on the front lawn. It made me think that maybe this was a trustworthy     community.”

        We’re doing our best to be a sign to the most vulnerable among us that we are a trustworthy community.        We’re using every means at our disposal to communicate that we can be trusted to help. Rather than    sending us letters, my fond hope is that the town of Old Lyme would join us in that project. My wish is         that it wouldn’t be left to the churches alone to send a strong moral signal right now, but that our local    officials and residents alike would find ways to broadcast loud and far that Old Lyme stands ready to do        whatever it can to help those who need it most right now. These are our neighbors. They service our cars       and mow our lawns. They clean our houses and serve our meals. My hope would be that the town,   together with the businesses and institutions arrayed up and down Lyme Street would find bold ways of           demonstrating and communicating our support for the least among us. I’ve witnessed the hospitality that       most of our residents exhibited when welcoming a family of Syrian refugees, and so I know that  capacity exists. My wish, my plea, is that we not hide that light of hospitality under a bushel of      respectability, “appropriateness” and historical facades. My hope is that we might join our moment in       history as a community of radical hospitality and acceptance.

        With respect and hope,

        Steve

        Rev. Steven R. Jungkeit, Ph.D.
        Senior Minister
        First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
        Lecturer in Ethics
        Harvard University Divinity School

The letter will be discussed later in the meeting. See item 6 “Any other new or old business.”

2. Public Open Forum: no participation

3. Plaque Program Update: Martha Hansen
209 Mile Creek Road: Research is continuing.
32 Lyme Street: Cynthia Taylor has been working on the research. Her house was moved to its location after it was built. She has the name of the original builder, but is having problems filling in the ownership in the 1800s because there are many Waits in the property records. Jeff Cooley suggested asking Carolyn Wakeman for advice.
Action: Contact Carolyn Wakeman for advice/help researching 32 Lyme Street (Martha Hansen).
5 Bailey Road: Alexandra Escher is interested in a historic plaque for her home, believed to have been built by Captain Cunningham ca 1820. Martha Hansen will work with her on the project.
26 Sill Lane: Caroline Ronchini has requested historical information about her home. Martha Hansen will contact her.

4. Public Hearing: 32 Lyme Street, Cynthia Taylor, Driveway improvements
Cynthia Taylor submitted a CofA to make some improvements to her driveway, which exits on Beckwith Lane. A circular turn-around will be added and the surface will be oiled stone. There were no objections from neighbors.
Jeff Cooley made a motion, seconded by John Forbis, to approve the CofA for one year. All present voted in favor, motion passed.  

5. Secretary’s Report:  
Martha Hansen and Dini Mallory are working on updates to the Historic District handbook. Jim Meehan, of James Meehan Art Design, has agreed to work with us on layout and photographs. Essex Printing has provided a quote for 500 copies. John Forbis suggested getting a quote from GHB Printing in North Haven also.
Action: Contact GHB Printing for a quote (Martha Hansen).

The HDC’s annual Town Report is being edited by John Pfeiffer and will be submitted this afternoon.  

Active (Open) CofAs: 55 Lyme Street, screening fence for propane tank and AC unit. This CofA has expired and the project is not quite finished. The propane tanks behind the building may need to be moved to allow for a new handicapped accessible entrance. The screening will be installed once they are in their final location.
Jeff Cooley made a motion, seconded by John Forbis, to extend the CofA for one year. All present voted in favor, motion passed.

6. Any Other New or Old Business:
The signs and banners at the Congregational Church have been removed at the request of the HDC. Rev. Jungkeit wrote a very thoughtful letter about the many different kinds of signs in the Historic District (see Communications). John Pfeiffer stated that the messages conveyed by the church signs are the right ones. However, the signs and banners were displayed for longer than the period allowed for temporary signage.

Should we have a public area where such signs can be displayed? The commission decided to write a letter to the Board of Selectmen referencing Rev. Jungkeit’s letter (now part of the public record) and recommend that they address the issue as a community effort. A letter will also be written to Rev. Jungkeit thanking him for his response, and letting him know of the action taken.
Action: Write letters to the Board of Selectmen and to Rev. Jungkeit (Martha Hansen).

7. Adjournment: John Forbis made a motion, seconded by Jeff Cooley, to adjourn the meeting at 10:13 am. All present voted in favor, motion passed.

Respectfully submitted,

Martha Hansen
Secretary


 
 
52 Lyme St, Old Lyme, CT 06371  (860) 434-1605

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