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The Future of the Old Clark Tavern—An Opportunity for Medfield: State-of-the-Art Restaurant vs. Historically Preserved Gem?

The Old Clark Tavern is at a crucial point in its long storied history. Is the current proposal by the Linnerts’ the only option for preserving this historic gem?

 

No, it is not.

 

Based on the petition initiated by Christine McCue Potts and all of the comments from attendees at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meetings, including those by the abutting neighbors, the overwhelming majority of Medfield residents want the Old Clark Tavern historically preserved. However, many of these supporters either don’t realize that the Linnerts’ proposal will significantly alter the property or they believe that the current proposal is the only or “best" option to prevent demolition of the structure. This just isn’t the case. Let’s look at the facts:

 

·         Seth Clark built a portion of the Clark Tavern in 1741 with major additions built over the next 60-70 years

·         The Clark Tavern served as a residence, inn, headquarters for the Connecticut militia, post office, and meeting hall for many years under the ownership of the Clark family. See the informative articles in The Portal by Richard DeSorgher and Cheryl O’Malley for more details.

·         The recent dendrochronology testing has revealed that there are reused timbers in the attic and basement that date back to 1677 and that these reused timbers were likely from Benjamin Clark’s original house on the property that was burned during the King Philip's War.

·         The current proposal will demolish at least 61 walls or portions of walls and at least 45 doors including a whole section of the structure on the east side of the building so that a state-of-the-art kitchen can be built.

·         The proposal will convert the structure into a restaurant with a state-of-the-art kitchen, new bathrooms, elevator, grease trap, and new rooflines, and will fill in the contours of the site and pave it over with a very large parking lot covering much of the 0.9 acres of land that the property rests on.

·         There is NO lodging function in the latest version of the proposal. Thus, it will not function as an inn. It will only be a restaurant with little historical parallel to the former function of the tavern or its use as a residence for its entire history.

·         Thus, the project is more than a cosmetic renovation, and includes significant demolition of a historic property that does not return the structure to its origins as a historic inn. Those in favor of this project have failed to mention the structural changes and demolition of part of the old Clark Tavern in their writings or at the various town meetings and it is important to understand the scope of the plans.

 

As others have stated, the Old “Clark Tavern is one of Medfield's most important historic properties” and is worth saving. It is true that the structure has been vacant since Lorraine Laverty’s death in 2007 and was then owned by Stephen Browne prior to selling it to the Linnerts in 2013. Many argue that the Linnerts' proposal is the only option for saving this historical gem but there is another opportunity worth strong consideration:

 

Given the overwhelming support for the preservation of the Old Clark Tavern including over 1100 that signed the petition, the residents of Medfield should request that the town purchase the property and renovate it into a historically preserved structure with a use similar to the Peak House. Or, perhaps the Linnerts would be willing to donate the property to the town provided the town guaranteed the historical preservation of the property? Some may argue that the cost is prohibitive for the town. However, with so many supporters, a not-for-profit fund could be established through donations to assist with the cost of the renovation and it could operate much like the Fairbanks House in Dedham (http://www.fairbankshouse.org/index.html) vs. a new restaurant.

 

Knowing the vast history of the Old Clark Tavern, we should all be in favor of the town taking ownership of the property and renovating it back to its historic glory. This is the win-win scenario that so many residents are seeking for the Old Clark Tavern. Thus, I would hope the Linnerts, Board of Selectmen, Historical Society, Historical Commission and all others that are fighting for the preservation of this property will join together to do what is best for our town and the storied history of this magnificent property. Carpe Diem!





CMP March 18, 2014 at 10:42 AM
GM -- these are great thoughts and ideas. I don't mean in any way mean to minimize abutters' concerns, and I completely agree that the petition response should not minimize them as well. But overwhelming public support for a project only happens when residents feel that people such as the Linnerts have been sensitive and responsive to those concerns, and they see the community importance of that project. Based on what I've heard at hearings and elsewhere, traffic studies, property appraisals, reports by official historic groups in town, and other reports have addressed virtually all of the abutters' concerns and/or to comply with the bylaws, and the Linnerts have revised their plans numerous times in response to both. As the ZBA and others have asked, will there be any hope for a constructive dialogue? Your idea could provide another avenue that has not yet been explored.
S P March 18, 2014 at 04:13 PM
GM--Interesting thought and certainly worth further discussion if the Linnerts would consider. A partnership like this could accomplish many things including a significant reduction in the scope and intensity of the current project, which may address the abutters remaining concerns while limiting the amount of ROI needed by the Linnerts. I appreciate your progressive thinking and it points out that this doesn't have to be an all or nothing adventure, as many claim. My suggestion was an attempt to think outside the box but was clearly met with acrimony by more than just CMP and RD. Rather or not your suggestion can come to fruition, thank you for the suggestion and open dialogue.
S P March 18, 2014 at 04:26 PM
CMP--you have continued to minimize the abutters concerns and to claim otherwise is preposterous. In addition to the selective hearing, please take some time to read all the letters that the abutters have submitted and you will easily see that "all of our concerns" have not been addressed, virtually or otherwise. A proposal much smaller in scope has the potential to gain support of the abutters but the likelihood of the required ROI by a 50-70 seat restaurant with less parking and operating with the same hours as Basil's or Zebra's, is slim to none. A reduction in the size of the parking lot to meet the lot coverage requirement for a residential zoned property and provide the required 25' buffer for the residential property in back would automatically reduce the number of seats in the restaurant and entire scope of the project. And, if the ROI isn't a driving factor for the Linnerts or could be minimized by partnerships, then it opens up the door for other potential business options that would be less intense and the over arching goal of saving the Tavern would be achieved. Ce serait une bonne vie!
C Wheaton March 23, 2014 at 08:41 PM
SP - your suggestions at the top of the page are representative of the idealism that is holding up this project. You've made your points and we appreciate the humility with which you've delivered them.
S P March 24, 2014 at 10:27 PM
C Wheaton--Nothing is holding up this project except the process by which the ZBA must follow. Do you really appreciate my suggestions!?!

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