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November 7, 2013

Proposed historic district in Springfield tabled

Cooperstown Crier

---- — The effort to establish a historic district in the town of Springfield has officially been tabled.

“It was a good thing,” said Kenneth Ostrander, one of the leading opponents of the district.

The Springfield Historical Association has been trying to get the Springfield Patent designated as a historic district since 1994, according to society president Noel Dries.

The town board gave approval for this effort in December 2011, but as it moved forward, resistance began to materialize.

“I think there was a great deal of misunderstanding,” said Dries, who said that opponents of the designation had claimed that, were it to pass, Springfield would be subject to property restrictions similar to the ones in place in the village of Cooperstown.

Dries said, however, that the Cooperstown restrictions are the result of a local statute, not because it is in the Glimmerglass Historic District. Indeed, Dries claims that if the Springfield Patent Historic District were approved, which would encompass most of the eastern part of Springfield, no additional restrictions on landowners would result.

“There were no new restrictions going to be put in place,” said Dries.

According to Dries, the only change that the designation would institute would be that property owners with properties 50 years old or older could apply for grants and be eligible for tax credits to repair and improve them. The district would not prevent these landowners, however, from modifying or destroying historic properties if they chose to do so.

Ostrander didn’t point to any unacceptable restrictions in the district as a reason for his opposition. Rather, he objected to the process with which it had been brought forward.

“There was no open transparency,” said Ostrander. “No open forums, no public meetings.”

He also said that the district was being supported by people from outside the town, including those associated with the conservation group Otsego 2000. And while the district might not legally pave the way for stricter local regulations, Ostrander said that it could set a precedent that those wanting to put in preservation based land restrictions could hold up.

“They could make it easier to justify,” said Ostrander.

Dries said that he has heard of no complaints stemming from either the Glimmerglass Historic District, which covers Lake Otsego and the land around it, or the Lindsey Patent Historic District, which includes Cherry Valley, from landowners. He also said that the historic district wouldn’t provide a gateway for more restrictive statutes down the road.

Dries said that even though he and other historical society members have explained that adopting the district would not restrict property owners, rumors in the town have abounded, including one that the designation would restrict the types of windows and paint landowners could use.

“Anytime we tried to explain things to some of these people they said ‘You’re wrong,’” said Dries.

Ostrander said that the benefits that could be gained from the district were outweighed by the potential unknowns. He also said that the residents didn’t like the idea of another layer of land use regulation.

“They just didn’t want more regulations or restrictions,” he said.

Because of the opposition to the designation, the board voted to pull its support from the effort in September 2012. One of the reasons was that the board objected to the process for approving the district.

In order to defeat the proposal, a majority of landowners in a proposed historic district must send notarized letters voicing their opposition. Those who support a district, however, need to take no action.

Ostrander and other opponents of the designation went door to door to collect such letters.

“We ended up with over 300 objection letters notarized,” said Ostrander, who had them deliver to SHPO. “They had to acknowledge there were a lot of ... unrepresented voices.”

In order to address some of the concerns of the residents, officials from SHPO did a presentation for the Springfield Town Board on Aug. 27, followed by a public forum. Dries said, however, that this wasn’t particularly effective.

“The SHPO representatives were not treated very graciously,” said Dries, who said that a number of people at the forum used it to push their own agenda.

Ostrander said that the forum helped to launch their letter gathering campaign.

“We got 60 to 70 letters right then and there,” he said.

Opposition to the district has become so fierce that some people in Springfield have proposed ejecting the historical society from the community center, where they are currently based.

“(It’s) a very serious possibility,” said Dries.

Ostrander doesn’t support ejecting the society, but he does believe that they shouldn’t hold their private executive meetings there.

Given the opposition to the proposed historic district, Dries wrote to SHPO on Sept. 27 on behalf of the historical society requesting that the effort be tabled. He also said that, before this letter was sent, SHPO did not seem like they would be acting on the request.

“They were not going to move ahead with it,” he said.

Soon after, SHPO formally tabled the proposal.

Dries still hopes that they can bring back the proposal, once passions have cooled. At the same time, he said he doesn’t see this happening until support is achieved from the town board.

“As long as the town board is not supporting it it’s pointless to bring it back to life again,” he said.

Ostrander said that the grassroots effort against the district was what led to its tabling. He also said that, after talking with an official from SHPO, he doesn’t think the proposed historic district will be revived without massive popular support.

“In any democratic society, the majority should rule,” said Ostrander. “The people won in the end.”