New Scotland adopts preservation law, Voorheesville may follow

— Voorheesville Public Library Archives

Preserving history: Union Depot in Voorheesville was built in the 1800s; it was torn down after it was no longer being used. A replica has been built nearby as a pavilion at the head of a rail trail that goes to Albany. New Scotland recently adopted a historic preservation law that is also being considered for adoption by the Voorheesville, which, if adopted, would lead to the creation of a joint town-village historic preservation commission.

NEW SCOTLAND — At its November meeting, the town board adopted a law establishing a historic preservation commission, an advisory-only body; its first major undertaking will be to create a registry of New Scotland’s historic properties.

The same proposal awaits a vote by the Voorheesville Board of Trustees, which, if approved, would create a joint town-village commission. 

Should the village adopt the law, which appears likely, the New Scotland-Voorheesville Historic Preservation Commission would consist of five members, three appointed by the town board and two by the village board. In addition, each municipality’s official historian would be an ex officio committee member. 

Voorheesville will hold a public hearing on the proposed Historic Preservation Law on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m., at village hall. 

Under the new law, before a demolition permit is issued for a structure older than 100 years in New Scotland, the town building department gives 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 new law states that “designation on the … Register of Historic Places is strictly a local honorary listing … An owner of property on the Historic Register has no restriction on the use, maintenance, additions to, or alterations of the property as a result of this designation.”

The point of the registry is to provide a benefit to people who own historic properties, said Alan Kowlowitz, president of the New Scotland Historical Association who pushed for the legislation; the honorary listing is to encourage owners to maintain their historic structures. 

The initial task of the committee, Kowlowitz said, is putting together the registry — a complete list of the historic homes, structures, sites, and objects in town that already appear on the state and national historical registries as well as compiling the locations or sites in town with “historic markers.”

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

— Having, as the law 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 committee’s other major task will be to look at the potential for voluntary historic preservation zoning in New Scotland, Kowlowitz said, a process that “would take quite a bit of time,” as long as two years, according to the new law. 

 Kowlowitz used Clifton Park’s historic preservation law as an example of the type of voluntary zoning he’d like to see the commission present to the town board for adoption, but added that he’s not sure that type of zoning would even work in New Scotland. 

In Clifton Park, owners are incentivized with tax breaks to get them to preserve their properties. The historic-preservation easement, known as “landmark status,” is an agreement that says, to get the tax break, the property owner agrees to certain restrictions on what can and can’t be done to the exterior of the home.

As an example of potential historic preservation commission work, Kowlowitz gave the example of the old Severson farmhouse that once stood at the corner of Maple Avenue and Stonington Hill Road in Voorheesville, and has since been replaced by a condo complex.

Kowlowitz said the house had been built in 1802 or 1803. 

Had there been a commission in place at the time the farmhouse was demolished, Kowlowitz said, even though the developer called the house a “knock down,” a preservation commission could have at least documented the historic structure.

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More New Scotland News

  • Ed Mitzen spent much of his childhood in Voorheesville before going on to national renown as the founder of Business for Good, a not-for-profit that practices what he calls “venture philanthropy,” and which is now developing two businesses in the village where Mitzen grew up. 

  • Supervisor Douglas LaGrange spoke of an unnamed man who died in a townhouse in an unnamed development in New Scotland that does not have a homeowners’ association. The man’s side of the house has been vacant “quite a while,” LaGrange said and it’s “very hard to make sure it’s kept up.”

  • Voorheesville has required that taxes be mailed in since the 2020, removing the option to pay in person, which has frustrated some people. Now, however, the district allows for online payments, which Assistant Superintendent for Finance Jim Southard says make the process easier for taxpayers. 

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