Published November 18. 2012 4:00AM
Groton - The Noank Historical Society laid the groundwork last week for a more active role in preserving the historic look of the village.
The board of directors for the nonprofit organization voted to alter its bylaws to allow them to accept preservation easements, or restrictions that can limit alterations or demolition of historic properties in Noank.
Historical society member Mary Anderson said it was an important expansion of the society's purpose, "which is to preserve local history and architecture."
"It puts the Noank Historical Society in a position to help preserve the buildings in Noank if individual owners want to put a preservation easement on their property before they sell it," she said.
The easement is a legal agreement filed in the land records and applies in perpetuity to all subsequent owners, according to Anderson's husband, attorney Robert P. Anderson Jr. He drafted the language of the amendment for the historical society.
He said the historical society would have a legal standing to enforce the easement. If changes to a property not in line with the easement were attempted, the historical society could go to court and obtain an injunction against the owner, he said.
Who would fund such a legal battle is another question.
Anderson said the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which acquires easements in a similar fashion, asks for money up front in the event of a future legal battle.
In Noank, he foresees a system akin to a fund drive if a legal issue arose.
Robert Anderson said the provision is a private agreement without governmental interference, separate from zoning laws.
"It's a way to allow the property to go on and be used rather than turning it into a house museum," he said.
The move was prompted by the possible sale of the so-called Main Street House, at 36 Main St., by the Noank Baptist Church.
The church currently leases the building, an Italianate-style structure that is the former Noank American Legion, to Noank Group Homes.
The building was a gift to the church by the Andersons.
Church Council member Jane Templeton said the church is exploring the possibility of selling the building but has yet to make any formal decision.
Noank Group Homes, formerly Noank Baptist Group Homes, was established at the site in 1972 as a home for teenage girls in state custody. It is incorporated separately from the church.
Five girls are now housed in the Noank building.
Noank Group Homes Board President Kelly Reardon said the board would evaluate the option of buying the property but has yet to receive a proposal.
"The Main Street House has been a wonderful home for the girls in our custody for 40 years," Reardon said. "We are interested in ensuring it maintains its historic and architectural significance. It's a beautiful building."
Mary Anderson said the building has an important place in Noank as one of the first buildings visible as visitors cross the bridge.
"Noank village is on the National Register of Historic Places," she said. "Preserving the look of Noank has earned us that place."