Falmouth Historic Districts Commission Votes Against Demolition Of Elm Arch Inn Bungalow

In a 2-2 vote, Falmouth’s historic districts commission Tuesday night, August 5,  voted against allowing a local developer to demolish an outbuilding on the Elm Arch Inn property.

In question was a 1920s- or 1930s-built three-room bungalow that sits partially in the Main Street historic district at 26 Elm Arch Way. The bungalow is not original to the inn, which was built in 1812 on Main Street and later moved to its current location.

“I think the town is sending me a message with that vote, because I have followed all the bylaws and met all the town’s requirements,” developer David Wald of Gerloff Road said on Wednesday. His plan was to raze both the inn and outbuilding to build six condominium units. The Elm Arch Inn, however, is not in the historic district, but is subject to a six-month demolition delay bylaw.

He said he was blindsided by the decision, but will try to go forward with the development with the bungalow still on the property. “I have to see if I can make it work and figure out how I can change the project,” he said.

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Mr. Wald said although the town wants to save the inn from demolition, there is no plan or vision for the structure. His representative, Stephen O. McKenzie, echoed his client’s position, stating that without money or a plan from the town, the inn will fall into decay because the current owners are not willing to invest in the building.

Commission members Nicole Goldman and Barbara J. Milligan voted against the demolition, while commission chairman Edward J. Haddad and member Tamsen E. George voted in favor of the application.

Mr. McKenzie provided a letter from an architecture firm stating the building itself is not historically significant from the standpoint of architecture or design. The commission has the discretion to determine that a pre-1950s building has no architectural or historical significance and may be demolished.

Much of the commission’s discussion prior to the vote centered on whether the fate of the bungalow should be based on its own merits as an old structure, or as part of a property containing an historic inn.

“The question for us to decide is if the bungalow is a significant structure that we feel should be preserved for some reason,” Mr. Haddad said. “It’s a 1930s beach bungalow. Does it have significant style or architectural features? I don’t think so.”

Ms. Milligan said it is significant based on its context.

“It was an early bungalow for a historic inn,” she said.

In response, Mr. Haddad said the inn should not be part of the discussion and the commission should be looking solely at the portion in the Main Street historic district.

“But it was there. It was part of the inn,” Ms. Goldman said. “According to our guidelines, accessory building can have significance and must be retained and restored,” she said.

Ms. George responded by asking if the bungalow were in another location, would the commission be interested in saving it. “I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like a significant 1930s structure,” she said, answering her own question. 

Commission members also discussed whether a guideline stating no demolition can occur until a plan is in place for reusing the site should have any bearing on their decision.

Ms. Goldman said they may need to wait on making their decision on the bungalow until they see what happens to the inn.

Assistant town planner Marlene McCollem said the “site” in the guideline only refers to the small portion lying in the historic district under the commission’s purview and therefore the inn’s fate should not be a factor.

The hearing was continued from July after commission members asked Mr. McKenzie to provide evidence to support his claim that the outlying building was not historically significant and that it was constructed after the Elm Arch Inn was built. Mr. McKenzie and resident and local historian Ann L. Sears of Locust Street provided a combination of insurance maps, letters and photographs certifying the age of the bungalow and, in this case, its lack of architectural significance.

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