by| Jun 3, 2021 2:44 pm
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Posted to: Housing, Real estate, The Annex, True Vote
History is for sale for $2.25 million on the East Shore — along with a whole lot of room for overnight guests of mulitple species.
The sale price is for the 26.25-acre Raynham Estate fronting at 709 Townsend Ave.
One of New Haven’s most prominent families has owned that property since 1797, when local merchants Isaac and Kneeland Townshend bought it. The Townshends constructed the main six-bedroom, two-and-half story Colonial home, now on the Federal Register of Historic Places, in 1804. The sprawling grounds include carriage and caretaker’s houses, a gazebo, and plenty of nature for a builder to
destroy replace with new condos or rental properties.
The property stayed in the Townshend family’s hands, and remained a single-family residence, through more than two centuries of change in New Haven.
The last of the civic-leader Townshends, Doris (“Deb”), died this past August at the age of 98. (Click here to read in her obit about some of her many community responsibilities.) Her husband Henry died in 2012.
Now the heirs are selling the property. (Wiggin & Dana attorney David Kesner, agent for the trust that assumed ownership of the property after Henry’s death, declined comment for this article.)
The city assessor’s database — notorious for appraising and taxing properties at a fraction of the value they end up selling for — appraises the estate’s worth at $1.085 million.
Zillow began listing the estate this week at the $2.25 million asking price.
If some recent bidding wars in town are any indication, offers may come in higher.
“That sounds cheap in today’s market,” noted one close observer of the market who’s familiar with the property. “Some developer’s going to scoop that up in a minute.”
Anstress Farwell of the Urban Design League recommended that the eventual buyer preserve “a rare historic and cultural resource of national significance.”
“Like the East Shore’s historic lighthouse, Raynham has been a vivid and cherished landmark — a beautiful vista from land and harbor, for almost two centuries,” Farwell argued.
“The Gothic Revival house is an outstanding example of its type. The romantic Gothic facades were built around the original Federal style home. Beautiful detailing from this earlier period can still be seen inside the house. The house and its historic setting, including its mature landscape with champion trees, original barns and outbuildings — all in excellent condition — makes this a place where a serious effort to find a buyer committed to its preservation is imperative.”
Preservation Trust’s Elizabeth Holt said the group is foremost concerned that the property and house not be “physically divided and/or altered without respect to its history and significance.” She spoke of “endless and creative” possible uses, “such as an event space.”
Chuck Mascola, a lifelong East Shore resident and former alder, said he was “shocked” and ”disappointed” to see the house go on the public market without restriction.
He recalled chatting with the late Henry Townshend about the property’s future. Townshend had at one point expressed an intent to donate that property to the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Mascola said.
Now Mascola fears that “an irresponsible and insensitive development” will “destroy” the property.
“I had hoped for a continuation of what is such an iconic part of the East Shore of New Haven: Private ownership by people who are stewards of the land,” Mascola said. “I realize that might be unrealistic in this day and age.”
Tags: Townshend estate, Raynham Estate, open space, Deb Townshend
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The City must buy it to control it’s future use and make sure the property remains on the tax rolls, none of the mega landlords land bank it, and no “non-profits” suck more money out of New Haven.
That is an amazing amount of land. It is enough for accommodate multiple uses. You could preserve the mansion, have a public park running along the ridge (opening up the views to the public) and still build hundreds (heck, a few thousand) mixed-type housing units. History, parkland and housing for humans, why not?
Tragic loss of history. The home will likely be razed, as was the wonderfully restored Warner House in Pine Orchard recently.
The city or a civic consortium should buy it and turn it into a park and events venue with an emphasis on weddings, which would bring in a lot of revenue while preserving the land, the architecture and the history. Even better if the house could be turned into a B&B where wedding parties could pay to stay for the weekend.
This property is large and near Tweed-New Haven airport. The city or state should buy it to serve as a buffer against housing development near the airport. Meanwhile, preserve it as a park for New Haven! This is a wonderful opportunity for the future of New Haven.
The New Haven Colony Historical Society has been renamed the New Haven Museum for a number of years now, the story should clarify this to avoid confusion.
“Meanwhile, preserve it as a park for New Haven! This is a wonderful opportunity for the future of New Haven.”
Nice idea but it would be extremely costly to maintain a park like this. I’d prefer to see that kind of money put towards areas like the Hill or Dwight, where the parks are decrepit or nonexistent, before it is put towards the East Shore which already has many parks.
If it is converted to a park, please don’t tear down the mansion, like they did with the Edgerton Park estate when it was donated to the city.
A B&B is a great idea too. It might work financially if Tweed is significantly expanded, because an expanded airport would allow New Haven to host many more events and conferences every day. Currently, companies in New Haven have to host their events in New York City because the airport service is inadequate for business travel.
For now, the best bet might be trying to find someone who wants to preserve it as a single family home or a developer who would add 100 or so condos or apartments in the back with some common amenities.
You might even call Henry & Doris Townshend the last of that class of people who believed in NOBLESSE OBLIGE… Their service to the community was remarkable in any era. That their heirs have no regard for the history of the estate or the name to be carried on in NH is sad but not surprising. Americans don’t like to look back or at least they didn’t till lately.
East Shore does not need another park to draw more revelers and trash-spreading picnic debris. Luxury housing would be a farce in a city that is already so separated by class. Workers can follow the jobs. It is retirees who are at a crossroads.
I suggest 55+ community that is all inclusive—- Kind of like the Villages in Florida. The lack of affordable housing with measures in place to keep seniors in their homes for as long as possible is quite apparent in this part of the country. Maybe CT could stop bleeding retirees if there were a place they could afford to live in and spend their remaining years…. and money!
Paul, your statement about the assessor’s database is overblown. As the two linked stories indicates, recent sales prices of two classes of properties have been consistently well above their appraised values – large apartment complexes and parking lots in or near downtown. But as the data Tom Breen has compiled shows, this has not been the case for single family homes and small multifamily properties. Generally, their sales prices have been consistent with their appraisals, adjusted for inflation as measured by the CPI. And the gap between current sales prices of apartment complexes and parking lots and the appraisals conducted almost five years ago does not mean the appraisals were flawed. In the interval, a number of large parking lots have become far more valuable apartment complexes. Developers are paying above appraised value for the lots because they think can make money, by building similar complexes or complements to 100/101 College Street.
Razing the main house would be a huge loss. A less destructive (and potentially profitable) alternative would be converting it to high end condos or apartments, analogous to the conversions of the Red Cross building and Church of the Redeemer. And as Esbey notes, there are many options for the remainder of the property.
Apriori and Bipartisan, the city can’t properly maintain the parks it has now, in large part due to dramatic reductions in staffing. And while there are several parts of the city that are definitely short of open space, the East Shore is not one of them (although its parks could use some TLC).
I very much agree with K. McCarthy and imagine that a residential development that repurposes the on site structures as residential units as one of the only plausible uses. Considering the wetlands, existing buildings, site development costs and lower rent/sales outside of downtown I think this is a challenge to most developers. If the site were developed into eighty units the land cost would be $27,500 per unit – probably not a homerun. Eighty units also feels like a stretch.
An event space may be a better solution in terms of preserving the site and return on investment. One imagines a wedding facility as a viable option – as apriori proposed, but I can not begin to speak on the economics of that venture.
Here’s to hoping the development benefits the city without forgoing it’s past.
If I bought the property I’d build a hotel that preserves the aesthetics of the grounds by constructing guestrooms on the margins and would use the main house as an entry/check-in/bar restaurant. Tearing down the main house would be idiotic…but then theres companies like Hilton who demolish the Webster Bank building downtown because they have half-assed design teams who can’t think creatively and visionary.
CityYankee You are correct re: Henry and Deb Townshend. They did so much for their community – East Shore Park, on Woodward Ave. is built on land they donated to the City of New Haven. I have been told by people who live in Morris Cove that the Townsends donated to both Nathan Hale School and St Bernadette School. The New Haven Museum on Whitney Ave. has a Townsend Room and items donated by the couple. I once went to an exhibition at the museum and there was a lot of information on the Townshend. I knew Mrs.Townshend from a local history group to which we both belonged. I am worried about the fate of that beautiful house.
Anonymous The Brewster Estate, now Edgerton Park, was donated to the City with the stipulation that the house be torn down. The family did not want it to fall into disrepair. I visited Ct in April and went to Edgerton Park and it is beautiful, but a large park like that needs a Friends group and volunteers to stay beautiful, which Edgerton Park does have. The Townshend estate is even larger, at 26 acres.
Let’s all hope for a good outcome for this beautiful property. I would hate to hear it was torn down, like the Warner house in Pine Orchard recently was.
I’m disappointed in the Independent for its unfunny “True the Vote” poll. I’m also appalled at the Townshend heirs or estate or whatever, for simply unleashing this property on the open market for what appears to me (as an inveterate reader of the New York Times real estate pages) to be a ridiculously low price for that amount of land in that location with a mansion on it that appears to be in top-notch condition.
What the heck is there to stop Mandy Management or Pike “International” from snapping it up and carving the mansion and the outbuildings into apartments, then subdividing the rest of it and flipping it?
I echo Mr. Mascola’s sentiments: that somehow, some way a person who loves the land and its grounds will purchase it for preservation as-is. Not everything needs changing or developing. This is a gem; a true rarity in the area and part of New Haven’s history. Any change will be irreparable in my opinion.
FYI, Raynham Hall in Norfolkshire, England, is the ancestral Townsend seat. The Norfolk Raynham is only twice as old as the New Haven Raynham.
Noooo!!! This is devastating news. Has the City no control since it is on the list of historical properties? As for the person that suggested building on the ledge above, it is already occupied by (peacefully well-hidden) 93 condos—our homes at Raynham Hill. The wild life is incredible: fox, turkeys, owls, cardinals, robins, deer, lots of rabbits, lots of coyotes, some deer and the occasional bear. The mere mention of Mandy or Pike makes my stomach churn. This is a peaceful, happy, beautiful neighborhood. Must everything be destroyed? It doesn’t need to be converted to a park; it already is. Sign me up for the protest!
What’s the purpose of the poll? It’s not only unfunny, it’s pointless. We don’t get to decide what happens to the property unless we put up the money. The fact that it’s on the open real estate market as opposed to privately negotiating with the city or entities that could afford it and preserve it, is a bad sign the family is going for the highest bidder in a very hot market. At this point Mandy and a variety of other investors, have far more money than the city. Wait for the bidding war.
I’d like to see land and house preserved as is, but we’ll see. The sellers and potential buyers certainly aren’t going to consult any of us.
Why the commentary on city appraisals from the author? It’s unprofessional outside of an opinion piece.
Gretchen, et al. it is likely that the city will have a say in what happens to the property. It is currently zoned RS-2 (single family). To develop it, the buyer will need to have it rezoned or seek a variance. Rezoning is a legislative act, and the Board of Alders (which is the city’s zoning commission) has very broad discretion. By law, public and aldermanic opinion are irrelevant to whether the Board of Zoning Appeals grants a variance, in practice they are often dispositive.
As an alternative or complement to zoning relief, the buyer may seek to subdivide the parcels. This would allow the construction of a dozen or more single family homes on the property, even without zoning relief. Under state law (CGS §8-25) such subdivisions require the approval of the City Plan Commission. But before it can act, it must adopt regulations. To my knowledge, it has not. I will let my lawyer friends discuss the odds of a buyer being able to force the commission to adopt such regulations through a mandamus action.
I’ve created a petition to encourage the City to buy the property so the residents of New Haven can control the destiny of the property.
I still say the property will be better not held by the City. We know how they care for properties and parks and roads and schools and everything else in their care.
My idea for a 55+ community is just what this area needs. Not the luxury 55+ but the medium priced all-encompassing community/village idea so elders can age in place and remain as independent as possible. I dread the idea of a slim shady developer coming in and creating a monstrosity but would rather see something lovely , as a tribute to one of New Haven’s most ancient and civic-minded families!!!
I like CityYankee’s idea of a 55+ community village/age in place that is a tribute to families.
Turn it into a State park like Gillette’s Castle https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks/Gillette-Castle-State-Park
and use and maintain the house as a historical time capsule museum like they do at Gillette, but also make it available to rent out for weddings and events like they do at the Lighthouse Carousel https://www.newhavenct.gov/gov/depts/parks/our_parks/lighthouse_point.htm
Turn it into a B&B/hotel that can be rented for events like weddings and conferences, with the grounds and the house remaining and maintained as is and preserved as a national historical treasure and the grounds as open green space like the deal that Quinnipiac Medical School (formerly BCBS campus) made with the Town of North Haven where residents can walk freely on the grounds.
The only problem with any adaptive reuse of the site by anyone…it’ll require lots of parking. Edgerton has two lengths of its perimeter parkable whereas this has none.
Will this over 55 community have its own radio and tv (like in Florida) so it can brainwash its residents into thinking that Donald Trump isn’t the criminal he is?
Mary O’Leary from the NHR has written an excellent article. Apparently there was a deal in the works to sell it to a non-profit tennis school. The article reads
“It is a great place for a school, right on the bus line,” DeCola said. He said he supported it even though it would no longer generate the $33,336 in taxes it now brings in. The site is assessed at $759,710. The proposed tennis use would require a zoning variance.”
I wonder how the BOA would feel about selling it to Yale?
Might be possible though without trashing the site. If you look at Lighthouse Park and don’t count all of the circulatory roads or the overflow parking areas on grass, about 17% of the effective area (omitting the wetlands half) is paved parking. On the Townsend Estate, (again omitting the sharply sloped half of the site to the east, this percentage is equivalent to the area of the southern parcel marked 02700. That’s about 2.46 acres which should be able to park about 360 cars.
I guess I’m kindof on board with NHV purchasing it for a park or an events center (or both). Also could host a sensitively designed hotel but the developer would have to not hire the usual hacks.
It’s a disgrace that the Elicker administration and the BOA didn’t disclose the city’s plans for the property and ask for community input. So much for transparency. Now that we know about it I’ve asked the 3 mayoral candidates to go on record with what they believe the City’s role ought to be in determining the future of this property.
Good afternoon –
I am tracking how the 2021 New Haven mayoral candidates compare on various issues. The historic Townsend estate on the East Shore is for sale for $2.25 million. Mary O’Leary has reported that the City was helping to negotiate a sale to a non-profit that would remove the property from the tax rolls. Please share your opinion on what the City’s role should be with respect to the property.
As someone who is proud of his European heritage, it always makes me very sad how in the states – especially this one – there is such wonton lust and desire to tear down anything of historical significance.
I read with interest some comments here calling out the True Vote poll, to where I had to go and re-read it again – but today – sadly those are all viable options.
I’m sure the Communists would love to see this incredible piece of history go either bye bye or be given to the people as it is a symbol of wealth.
I myself would love to see it be preserved, and perhaps made into a museum where tours could be given, and the grounds be a park.
I know in W.Berlin, I had visited many a castle/historical estate back during my youth where they did just that, and I always enjoyed these kinds of family outings.
But that being said, I also realize that people in the states don’t have these same kinds of values so I just hope someone is able to properly document this important piece of history.
Perhaps a book could be published about this home, and it’s legacy can then still live on after it’s future owners turn it into whatever they have in mind.
As far as the city having control, I would not count on that.
Money talks here in the states, and those who got the money call the shots.