Bill seeks to save New Scotland and V’ville historic ‘structures and sites’

— Voorheesville Public Library Archives
Preserving the past: Union Depot was built in the 1800s to accommodate the Albany & Susquehanna and West Shore railroads and later used by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad and others. Although the village of Voorheesville was built by train traffic, the old station was torn down when it was no longer used. Recently, a replica has been built nearby as a pavilion at the head of a rail trail that goes to Albany.

NEW SCOTLAND — The historical association here has proposed a law to identify buildings that have significance before they are torn down. The association’s president hopes that, in the future, tax incentives may be offered to further preservation.

The town board at its monthly meeting heard from Alan Kowlowitz, president of the New Scotland Historical Association, about a proposed law that aims, according to the NSHA, “to ensure that historic structures and sites in our communities are identified and preserved in such a way that enhance community character without impinging on property owners’ rights or requiring public expenditures.”

The proposal — which Kowlowitz will also present to the village of Voorheesville — would establish a joint New Scotland-Voorheesville Historic Preservation Commission consisting of up to seven members; four from the town and three from the village, which is located within the town.

The entire town board was receptive to the idea and agreed to move forward with a thorough review of the proposal.

Under the proposed law, before a demolition permit is issued for a structure older than 70 years, the town or village building department would give the commision 30 days’ notice to evaluate and document the building for historic or architectural significance — unless the structure poses an immediate threat to health or safety. The commission would also have the option to ask for an additional 14 days to complete its review.  

The historic commission would be an advisory-only entity that would offer input not only to New Scotland and Voorheesville’s building departments but also to the town and village boards, as well as each municipality’s planning and zoning boards.

The proposed law would establish a registry of historic places in both the town and village — currently, there is no single place where these data exist. Recognition of historical significance, would not place any restrictions on the property; the designation would be purely honorary.

To be considered for inclusion on the registry of historic places, a site or structure has to meet one of three criteria:

— Association with an event or person(s) who have made a significant contribution to the history of New Scotland or Voorheesville; or

— Having, as the bill says, “distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represents the work of a master, or that possesses high artistic values or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction”; or

— Producing, or being likely to produce information on prehistory or history.

The proposed law in action

“So, let’s have a couple of use cases,” Kowlowitz said to The Enterprise in a follow-up interview, offering examples of what a historic preservation commission might do.

“Something comes in,” he said, “there’s a historic building that has some some level of integrity, and a developer wants to tear it down.”

In that case, Kowlowitz said, the commission would make its case to the building department that the structure is historic and needs to be saved. However, he said, it is incumbent on the building department to take that advice and deny the permit, and it is up to the developer to comply with the permit.

But as John Scherer, a Voorheesville native, and, since 1978, the the town historian for Clifton Park, told Kowlowitz and others during a discussion on historical preservation in September 2018, sometimes developers will just ignore what they are told.

“Developers have, in many places, including Clifton Park, violated [the permit] and have basically done what they wanted,” Kowlowitz said. “Occasionally, they have been stopped and have been fined, but often they are willing to meet the fine.

“So that’s another whole set of issues: Is the fine structure rigorous enough to prevent scofflaws on the part of developers who often have very deep pockets?”

“Here’s another use case,” he said.

A building can’t be saved completely, Kowlowitz said, but, say, after the commision does its assessment, it is determined that the facade can be preserved. The commission will make its recommendation to the building department and, again, it’s on the developer to comply, but Kowlowitz said, developers who do comply with the permit are often given a lot of credit for doing so.

“And then, there’s a third scenario,” he said.

A building or any portion of it just can’t be saved; in that case, what the commision would do, Kowlowitz said, is ask for time to document the structure.

The building would be photographed, he said, and a written description of the structure would also be produced. “And so, if the building itself can’t be preserved,” Kowlowitz said, there is a record that will “help us understand what was the on that spot.”

At the Feb. 13 meeting, Kowlowitz told the board that, in Clifton Park, in order to get property owners on board with preservation, “there are positive incentives for preserving structures.”

The historic-preservation law that Kowlowitz presented to the town board is partially based on the law that created Clifton Park’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Incremental approach

The proposed law for New Scotland and Voorheesville does not go as far as the Clifton Park law in either its strength or scope, Kowlowitz said. In Clifton Park, Kowlowitz told The Enterprise, property owners are incentivized with tax breaks in order to get them to preserve their land.

The historic-preservation easement, known as “landmark status,” is an agreement that says, in order to get a tax break, the property owner agrees to certain restrictions on what can and can’t be done to the exterior of the home. “My understanding is there are no restrictions on what [owners] can do to the inside of the property,” Kowlowitz said.

When asked why the proposed law for the town village isn’t as strong as Clifton Park’s law, Kowlowitz said, “I’m an incrementalist; I don’t want perfect to drive out the good. And I think putting in anything which would appear to be restrictive on property owners — when the idea of voluntary historic preservation zoning is very new — and may impact the resources of [New Scotland and Voorheesville], which still have fairly tight budgets, I think might’ve sunk the entire concept and made it much more difficult to pass.”

However, Kowlowitz said, the proposed law does require the commission — within one year of its creation — to produce a report for establishing historic preservation easements and zoning, which, if adopted, could give the town and village better tools for inducing historical preservation.

 

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