The gung-ho group that’s aiming to save a Civil War general’s home on Route 7 in Milton may have found another front to defend.
The General Stannard House Committee is working up plans to subdivide the old farmhouse from its 19.75-acre shared lot with Gardener’s Supply, a move that if all parties agreed, would transfer ownership from local philanthropist Bobby Miller to the town of Milton.
The change in course, which comes as the committee simultaneously fundraises to keep the house standing, was the product of discussions with Miller, who wanted to forego liability as the structure is renovated and later visited by tourists, as the committee hopes.
“If somebody slips and falls, who are they going to call? Bob Miller,” he said.
Miller has been involved since summer 2013, when a group formed to save the home that once belonged to Gettysburg hero Gen. George Stannard, credited with stopping a key Confederate charge. The formal committee now imagines it housing a museum, welcome center or more and has raised $3,000 of the estimated $300,000 to renovate it, committee co-chair Bill Kaigle said.
Miller initially proposed the house be moved, which Kaigle advised wouldn’t be viable, as the foundation was possibly made of bricks crafted in Stannard’s own foundry years ago; the State Division for Historic Preservation cautioned such a move would damage the likelihood of getting grant funds the group desperately needs.
Even though Miller prefers to tear the house down and erect a monument, he agreed to donate the house and land to the cause, requiring a separate parking lot and entrance from Route 7.
“It’s not quite as simple as everyone would think,” Miller said. “We want to be as helpful as we can, but I don’t want to be the guard and the police down there.”
Not simple, indeed. Town Planner Jake Hemmerick said the subdivision would likely require variances and other permissions since it likely wouldn’t comply with regulations in the Industrial 2 district.
For one, the smallest lot size there is 100,000 square feet, or about 2.3 acres, but Miller proposed giving only a half-acre.
There are also setbacks to consider and whether the Vermont Agency of Transportation would recognize the existing but unused Route 7 curb cut in front of the house.
The committee also has to contend with water and wastewater connections, also under the state’s purview. The nearest municipal sewer line is 500 feet from the house, and running pipe that distance “would be prohibitively expensive,” Hemmerick said.
There could be ways around it, Hemmerick said, like onsite septic if the state determined it was feasible.
Parking is also a factor. Milton zoning requires spaces based on the development’s intended use, something that’s not necessarily in stone yet.
And up until last month, the committee would have had a tough time asking for a museum or welcome center in the I2 District, a strictly limited area until the planning commission proposed some leniency in its latest round of zoning updates.
If the selectboard passes the changes at a December 15 public hearing, retail sales, general offices or public/private facilities – all floated ideas for the Stannard House – would be permitted conditionally only for structures listed on the state historic register. The changes were proposed specifically so the Stannard House could stand a chance, Planning Director Katherine Sonnick said.
“They’re being kind as far as this project for sure, trying to help make it happen,” Kaigle said. “There’s no question about it.”
The selectboard would also have to approve the property acquisition, which Chairman Darren Adams said was way too early to discuss at this point.
Kaigle acknowledged a concern still remains about the building’s sustainability if the end use doesn’t generate income to cover ongoing maintenance costs. He’s in favor of the idea, but wants to respect existing zoning in the industrial park despite the newly written exceptions. Town regulations have preferred to keep retail and offices in the core.
“They’ve worked hard to make it that way, so we need to be sensitive to that,” Kaigle said, “but we need to be sensitive to making this sustainable, too.”
In a report submitted to the committee last week, Hemmerick indicated staff nearly always dissuades the DRB from variances to avoid undermining the regulations, “except in specific cases.”
Subdivision approval normally takes four months but could be longer due to the many stakeholders in Stannard’s case, Hemmerick said. Meanwhile, the house is at risk for falling down if it’s not stabilized, the first step in a long list of repairs before it’s usable.
In his memo, Hemmerick suggested Miller could alternatively ask the DRB for a planned unit development, the parties could go forward with lease agreements or the house could be relocated. Still, he thinks the house should have a future, as it sits at Milton’s gateway.
“They’re in the early stages, and they made a lot of headway,” Hemmerick said. “It’s still going to be a journey, so I hope they don’t get discouraged.”
Kaigle knew the process would be difficult and acknowledged he’s learning as it unfolds.
He hopes to craft a similar owneship agreement as the Milton Historical Society has with the town for its School Street museum. They share responsibilities in its upkeep.
In the meantime, Miller’s engineers, the committee and Milton’s planning office will work together on a subdivision proposal to discuss again.
“Some things that don’t look completely possible now maybe could be,” Kaigle said.