Location:
HISTORIC CONSERVATION; MUNICIPALITIES;

OLR Research Report


May 8, 2009

 

2009-R-0194

STONE WALL PRESERVATION LAWS

By: Jillian L. Redding, Legislative Fellow

You asked (1) for a summary of Connecticut laws that protect old stone walls and (2) if other New England states protect these structures.

SUMMARY

No Connecticut state laws specifically protect, or promote the preservation of, old stone walls. But, they may be protected under historic preservation laws that allow municipalities to name historic places, which may include a structure or a scenic road with an old stone wall. There are also state laws that allow municipalities to abate taxes on an historical or architecturally significant property, which may include a stone wall.

Although no Connecticut law specifically authorizes the preservation of stone walls, at least three Connecticut municipalities (Harwinton, Mansfield, and Redding) have passed ordinances or regulations to protect or regulate the movement of old stone walls under (1) their general municipal powers and (2) their power to regulate the way land is subdivided into parcels for development (subdivision regulatory powers).

At least three other New England states have laws that specifically protect stone walls. In Massachusetts, destruction or removal of a stone wall is a crime punishable by a $10 fine. New Hampshire prohibits the removal or alteration of stone walls on scenic roads without consent from the city or town planning board or other designated official municipal body. Rhode Island deems the theft of portions of a stone wall to be larceny.

CONNECTICUT

State Law

While there are no specific state laws that protect old stone walls in Connecticut, they may be protected under historic preservation laws. One such law permits municipalities to designate certain local roads as scenic highways and regulates the construction on or alteration of roads so designated (CGS 7-149a). Arguably, these highways may have stone walls that would also be protected. (For more information on this law, see OLR Report 2001-R-0870.)

Another law allows municipalities to abate taxes on historical or architecturally significant structures for preservation purposes (CGS 12-127a). If the structure has a stone wall, it would also be protected.

A third law allows the transportation, environmental protection, and economic and community development commissioners to designate a state highway or portion thereof as a scenic road (CGS 13b-31c). Arguably, such a designation would protect stone walls aligning the road. (For more information, see OLR Report 2003-R-0586.)

Historic District Properties

Properties within historic districts may qualify for a Historic Restoration Fund (HRF) grant to restore or rehabilitate objects, such as stone walls, according to Stacey Vairo, state and national register coordinator for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism. The property must also be listed in the State or National Registers of Historic Places and owned by a nonprofit organization or municipality. Vairo stated that several Connecticut properties have stone walls that are protected because they are (1) within the historic district, (2) on properties designated as historically significant, or (3) National Historic landmarks. Two examples are the stone walls at the Hillstead Museum in Farmington and the stone walls within the Andover Center Historic District.

Stone Wall Protection in Municipalities

At least three Connecticut municipalities have passed ordinances or regulations that protect stone walls: Harwinton, Mansfield, and Redding. Harwinton's ordinance prohibits people from removing, dismantling, demolishing, or relocating a highway boundary stone wall without a permit from the town's highway supervisor (Harwinton, Conn., Ord. 119(3)). The stated purpose of the ordinance is to (1) preserve the highway boundary stone walls as important monuments, (2) prevent the scavenging and destruction of these historic agrarian monuments, (3) preserve Harwinton's historic scenic highways, and (4) regulate excavation within or adjacent to highways (Id. at 119(1)). Harwinton adopted this ordinance under the municipality powers statutes (CGS 7-148(c)(6)(C), 7-148(c)(10), and 7-152c).

Mansfield and Redding preserve stone walls under the municipal subdivision regulatory powers authorized under CGS 8-25. Mansfield's subdivision regulations require developers to (1) preserve all existing stone walls on the property being developed and (2) relocate any stone walls on the existing lot to another part of the lot (Mansfield, Conn., Subdiv. Reg. 7.7). Under a Mansfield ordinance, a road is considered to be scenic and eligible for protected status if bordered by stone walls along the majority of its length (Mansfield, Conn., Ord. 155-2). However, the ordinance also allows for the removal of the stone wall on a scenic road as long as the Planning and Zoning Commission determines that the alteration is necessary (Mansfield, Conn., Ord. 155-6).

Redding's subdivision regulations seek to preserve “all significant natural, cultural, historical, and archaeological features on the subdivision . . .” (Redding, Conn., Subdiv. Reg. 4.8.1). According to Joanne Brooks of the Redding Planning and Conservation Office, this includes stone walls. The “Standard Conditions for Subdivision Applicants” may require the applicant to pay for, among other things, the reconstruction of stone walls on the property before the planning office will sign the mylar subdivision maps (Redding, Conn., Standard Conditions 4(h)). The conditions further state that:

There shall be no disturbance of any stone walls except where interrupted by necessary facilities shown on the approved Site or Lot Development Plan. Any disturbed sections of wall abutting the driveway entrance shall be restored to replicate the existing walls. All stone walls shall be maintained in their present condition (Standard Conditions 8(g)).

LAWS IN OTHER STATES

At least three other New England states specifically protect stone walls. In Massachusetts, the removal or destruction of portions of a stone wall is a property crime punishable by a $10 fine or arrest without a warrant (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, 105).

New Hampshire law protects stone walls only if they are part of a designated scenic road. It prohibits the removal or alteration of a stone wall on a scenic road without prior consent from the city or town planning board or other official municipal body (N.H. Rev. Stat. 231:158).

Several Rhode Island laws protect stone walls. Two protect historic stone walls “originally constructed in the 17th, 18th 19th or 20th centuries, to designate a boundary between farmsteads or to segregate agricultural activities . . . or to designate property lines” and new stone walls against larceny (R.I. Gen. Laws 11-41-32(c) and 45-2-39.1). People violating these laws are civilly liable to the property owner.

Another Rhode Island law allows municipalities to exempt up to $5,000 from property taxes for property containing an historic stone wall (R.I. Gen. Laws 44-3-43). The wall must be at least 50 feet long, at least three feet high, structurally maintained, and contain no noxious weeds and vegetation. Stone walls built before 1900 and constructed to designate a property boundary or to separate agricultural activities within a farmstead qualify for the exemption.

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