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August 29, 2013

Proposed historic district divides community

By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
Cooperstown Crier

---- — There was tension at the Springfield Community Center on Tuesday night as community members asked questions, made comments and expressed concerns about a proposed historic district.

There has been a debate about whether to gain the status of a historical district for the portion of the town of Springfield that falls in the Springfield Patent. According to National Register Coordinator from the State Historical Preservation Office Kathleen LaFrank, the historical significance of the town dates back to 1741 when a patent was awarded to nine people and the land divided into 68 lots. There is a pattern of farms, treelines and fields that have been preserved, she said.

In addition to this farmland, LaFrank said, the proposed historic district includes 65 farms, the turnpike hamlet, the industrial hamlet of Springfield Center and two residential hamlets.

“What we have is more than 200 years of history that together makes up a historic district,” she explained. “The grouping tells us more than any one building could tell us itself.”

Many local residents agree with the proposal while others ask why fix what isn’t broken. Some wanted to know whether there would be restrictions on private property owners.

LaFrank said listing on the national and state registers affords properties a measure of protection from the effects of federal- and or state-sponsored or -assisted projects. She said unless one is using state or federal money or taking advantage of a tax credit program, it does not regulate what individuals can do to their property. This includes painting, siding, selling or even demolishing a building or house, she added.

There are some benefits that come along with being registered, according to LaFrank. For example, she said local planners will know about it and should take it into consideration in the planning process; however, they do not have to.

She added that many people believe it raises property values and there are tax credits that private property owners and business owners can take advantage of.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 allows a 20 percent federal tax credit for the substantial rehabilitation of income-producing historic properties. Work must meet federal preservation standards.

The state legislature also provides an additional state tax credit for income-producing properties and for rehabilitating owner-occupied homes in eligible census tracts. The homeowner’s tax credit program provides 20 percent of qualified expenditures up to $50,000 (there is a minimum of $5,000). More information can be found at nysparks.com.

Some community members said they do not see any negatives with being listed while others said they feared the unknowns that might come down the road. On more than one occasion people said they “did not want to become Cooperstown.”

LaFrank said some communities, such as Cooperstown, have their own ordinances that place restrictions on private property owners, but that has no relation to being registered.

“I do not promote it, especially in rural areas, because I have found people don’t like to be told what to do,” she said.

Ken Ostrander is a resident who said he is afraid of the unknowns. He said the board can change hands and possibly institute some kind of historic district ordinance that would change local laws.

Town board member Bill Freeland said he feels people in the community are being misled.

“The primary issue we’re having is not so much about the effect of the historic district itself, but the methodology to adopt the historic district. What I am against is the discriminatory voting process (There are different criteria for a yes and no vote) ... It is about the registration process, which is highly flawed.” he said.

Informational letters from SHPO to property owners in the proposed historic district were mailed in late July, and so far, LaFrank said, she has received two letters of objection. A handful of people attending the meeting said they did not receive a letter. Even more people were upset that those against the project are required to send back a notarized objection letter while those that take no action will be considered as a yes vote.

Each private property owner has one vote regardless of how many properties or what part of a single property that party owns. For properties under multiple ownership, a majority of the owners must object — each gets a vote. 

Fifty-one percent of the vote is needed to object the project. To date there are 475 property owners listed within the proposed historic district. The list was requested through the Otsego County Real Property Office, according to LaFrank. If more property owners come forward, they will need to be added, she said.

Notarized letters of disagreement need to be sent to LaFrank at P.O. Box 189, Waterford, NY 12188-0189. Although a deadline date of Sept. 19 was previously set and disputed a few times throughout the meeting, LaFrank said objections can be made up until the day of listing.

Freeland said the board made an arrangement with SHPO representatives at a 3 p.m. workshop meeting Tuesday to “help manage and control” the registration process. The goal, he said, is to make sure things are done fairly and to make sure everyone gets the time they need.

Freeland said he is going to introduce a resolution at the next town board meeting, which will be Tuesday.