Russell Barton, owner of the historic Litchfield Jail, is making the first moves toward converting the former jailhouse into both a commercial and residential hub just across the street from the town center. Barton submitted an application to the Historic District Commission Thursday night.
Barton purchased the 202-year-old jail in August for $130,000. Milton Grew, the head architect for the project, and Bruce Reinheimer, the landscape architect, both gave presentations before the historic district commission.
Grew outlined a plan to turn the former jail into a location for several smaller retail shops, all at or under 1,000 square feet. This could include a restaurant, a coffee shop or leasable office space. None of this is set in stone, according to Grew.
“We’re trying to keep ourselves flexible,” he said. “No one has signed any leases.”
In the upper portion of the building, Grew said there would be space for three residential dwellings. Grew said that, given the high ceilings, these could make for great loft-type dwellings.
“The real challenge,” Grew said, “of course, is to keep the integrity of the building, the historical aspects of the building and at the same time make it modern commercial building that can be put to current commercial uses.”
To go through with these plans, Barton will need to first go through a public hearing before the historic district, which will begin Jan. 22. After the closure of the public hearing, the board will have time to rule on whether to accept his application.
Barton will then need to submit an application to the Litchfield Planning and Zoning Commission to change the use of the property, given that it is currently a “pre-existing non-conforming jailhouse,” according to the zoning office. The zoning board will go through the same process: accepting the application, holding a public hearing and then a deciding to approve or deny the application.
The Litchfield Jail was built in 1812 on 7 North St. The property stretches more than half an acre. It was used to house prisoners until 1992, when it was closed down after two prisoners escaped. Later, the facility became a rehabilitation center for women before again closing. It officially went on the market in 2010.
Prior to Barton’s purchase, the state offered the property to the town of Litchfield on several occasions, most recently in June 2012, at no cost. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously against accepting the property then, calling it too risky and expensive.
Barton said he was actually awarded the prison in 2011, but that the state had to renege because it had no right to sell the property. He’s encountered no such problems this time around.
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by Ryan Flynn
January 8, 2015
THE REGISTER CITIZEN