By Joshua Maloni
When the Village of Lewiston re-formed a Historic Preservation Board at the beginning of summer, some residents expressed concern over what the HPC might ask of owners of historic properties.
On Thursday night, the HPC held a public outreach session - an open house, of sorts - to introduce its members to the community, and to provide details on historic property designation, standards and tax credits.
"Our goal is to be a resource for people," HPC Vice Chairman Ken Slaugenhoupt said.
Commissioners and consultant Tom Yots explained the board's duties, and outlined the proper process for dealing with structures essential to Lewiston's character.
They took turns outlining several key points:
A number of handouts were offered to meeting attendees, including one that identifies the local law under which the HPC is operating.
"It outlines our powers and duties, which can be extensive, in terms of doing our job," Commissioner Lee Simonson said.
Download and read the local law HERE.
"The operative phrase here is ... 'Therefore, it is hereby declared to be a matter of public policy and a valid exercise of the inherent police powers of the village to protect, enhance and perpetuate such buildings, structures, sites or districts as is necessary,' and you can see those four (bullet points). I find No. 2 particularly important: 'Safeguard the area's heritage by preserving elements of its cultural, political, economic and aesthetic history.' And that's the intent of the law."
Slaugenhoupt said, "We're going to be looking for some professional help to do a new historic inventory of all of the buildings, possibly, within the entire Village of Lewiston. This inventory, by itself, has no particular legal force or intent, but what it does is it brings an experienced professional into town, and they give us a written report on each of the buildings that they look at."
"From this document, then, we will have an up-to-date list and detail so that we can go ahead and evaluate what additional buildings in the village that are not currently (historically) designated may warrant being designated," he added.
Slaugenhoupt has begun to formulate such a list. The document can be viewed in the clerk's office inside the Red Brick.
Certificate of Appropriateness/Approval
When owners of historic property seek to make an exterior change, they are required to apply for a certificate of appropriateness/approval - which Yots likened to a building permit application. When a request is made, the HPC has "a list that we've got to go through before any renovation projects on any of these historical buildings (commence)," Commissioner Jim Fittante said.
Click HERE to read and download a second document from Thursday's meeting: the standards for rehabilitation.
"We're here to help preserve the value of the homes (and) to maintain the historical value to the village and to the owners," Fittante said. He added, "We want to help. We're not here to try to put a stop to (renovation); we're just here to aid you in moving forward with any rehabilitation to these historical buildings."
Secretary of the Interior Standards
Yots further explained the standards for rehabilitation. He explained historic preservation is under the purview of the secretary of the interior for the National Parks Service.
"The (Historic Preservation Commission) is what's called a 'certified local government,' " Yots said. "That means that the state of New York has certified this commission to do historic preservation in the Village of Lewiston."
Yots said the HPC works as the local agent of the New York State Historic Preservation Office.
"So, many of these things that the commissioners have been talking about, they will have help in doing this from the State Historic Preservation Office," he said.
Yots said that, while there are four areas of standards, the HPC is mainly concerned with the standard for rehabilitation.
"That's the one that, more or less, is going to be what will guide what happens here in the Village of Lewiston," he said.
Advising Owners of Preservation Practices
As far what's expected of those owning a historic property, Yots said there is a difference between restoration, which can be costly, and rehabilitation, where more options exist.
If a property is designated as historic - meaning it's at least 50 years old, and/or it has historical value (person or event), or architectural significance - the owner can change the interior at will, but must ask for a certificate of appropriateness/approval before making any changes to the exterior.
"They don't want historic fabric, which is, essentially, the materials on the building, to be altered in a way that they're not historic anymore," Yots said. "That's what the primary thing is in historic preservation."
He added, "In a building like Barton Hill, or a building like the Frontier House, that is from a specific time, we want it to be that way - we want it to represent that specific time - because that tells somebody who comes through this village (that) this village dates back to that era."
Yots said "repair" is preferred to "replace," but he reassured, "If your property is designated, it will not be onerous for you to deal with these kinds of things."
Designation of Buildings and Sites
Yots said individual property owners can enter into the process to register property as historic, but "that's a lot of work." He said it's easier for the village to identify sections or segments or districts as historic.
"One of the values of doing it as a whole district is the bar is lower for determining eligibility," Yots said.
Once a district is certified, all of its properties become certified, too.
HPC Chairman Harry Wright said the commission will look at the whole village. Currently, the board is working to find grant money to begin the process of nationally certifying the Plain and Cayuga streets corridor, which is currently locally designated.
Historic Preservation Tax Credits
"There actually are financial benefits given to historic preservation," Yots said. "The owner of a historic property can receive historic preservation tax credits if they do a project on their property, and they do those (aforementioned) standards."
"You need to be on the National Register of Historic Places in order to receive the tax credits," Yots said.
When a district is designated, all properties therein are eligible for tax credits.
"Once the commission gets the survey done, it will be a tremendous benefit to homeowners and commercial property owners to be on the National Register," Yots said. "The easiest way for that to happen is for historic districts (to be created)."
The HPC meets at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month inside the Morgan Lewis Village Boardroom at the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St.
"The public is always welcome to attend," Slaugenhoupt said. "We encourage getting feedback from you, not only tonight, but at every meeting that we have."