It was perhaps an unnecessary conflict, but now it has been resolved. Wallingford and the State Historic Preservation Office have settled a dispute over the town’s removal last year of a portion of the stone wall surrounding Center Street Cemetery.
The town had failed to notify the preservation office of its plan to cut a 15-foot section out of the wall, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and is protected by the National Historic Preservation Act. The purpose of the opening was to allow equipment to move between the cemetery and a new garage on Prince Street. The garage was funded through a state grant.
As part of the agreement, the town will have to pay $19,640 to a local masonry firm for repairs to the wall. The cut-out portion of the wall will not be replaced, but repairs will be made to other parts of the wall, including cracking and deteriorated concrete.
This is a reasonable settlement, in that this historic asset in the center of town will receive $19,640 worth of repairs that doubtless would have to be made sooner or later — which is better than a $19,640 fine — while the decision reinforces the idea that no one, not even the town, should be making unauthorized changes to a structure that’s protected as part of our local, and state, heritage. The Connecticut Environmental Policy Act extends such protection to historical resources by requiring a review process.
Although Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that “Everyone was trying to do the right thing,” the state’s position was that, whether willfully or by error, the town created an adverse effect that needed to be mitigated. The town, however, does not admit any wrongdoing.
We can understand why some residents, including municipal leaders, may see this sort of thing as yet another example of regulatory overreach by the state, by a bureaucracy that needs to justify its existence, the public good be damned. But when you accept state grant money, there are usually strings attached.
While it’s possible that some of those who were buried in the Center Street Cemetery during the 17th and 18th centuries — when all government was small — may now be turning over in their graves at news of the mandate that was handed down from Hartford. But, on the whole, this strikes us as a good example of two parties working together cooperatively to reach a solution.
It’s a solution that does not unfairly penalize the town, but does contribute to the preservation of an important part of Wallingford’s history.