Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A historic district is a benefit, by Paul Dobbs

I attended the second public hearing on Winchester’s historic district commission ordinance Jan. 14.

My take-away was that although there have been real problems with how the ordinance has been enforced, it would be a big mistake to abolish it. It’s protecting historic buildings, has already brought some grant money to Winchester, and provides potential for long-term economic development.

There may be lots of room for improving how things are done, but the hearing made it clear to me that abolishing the ordinance would be a huge step backwards.

The majority of people speaking on the 14th were in favor of keeping the ordinance; that is, they were against the warrant article to abolish it.

Cyndy Ryder summed up what many said, that we should keep the district, but make better regulations for it, and make it clear to people how the regulations work. She also stressed that all in town government should be on the same page with the regulations.

Winchester Realtor Elena Heiden, one of those agreeing with Ryder, added, “There are many things that will be lost if this historic district is abolished.”

If good buildings were lost and/or replaced by undesirable buildings, Heiden thought there would be a potential to devalue other properties in Winchester. She defended the assertion that downtown Winchester still retains many buildings of historic integrity and charm, and reminded the hearing that the ordinance and the districts make us eligible for grants (Historic district eligibility led to the grant money that painted the Thayer Library exterior and its tin ceiling).

Everyone, both members of the public and the commission, agreed that there were problems with how the ordinance has been enforced, and as a consequence some property owners had suffered delays and unexpected costs.

But I didn’t hear how the enforcement problems were a result of actions by the commission. I heard that lack of communication between town government offices resulted in building permits being issued by mistake by other departments, which then necessitated cease-and-desist orders. A messy business certainly. It was heartening that the commission members stated their commitment to ensuring that everyone with property coming before them from now on would get a fair shake.

Another unanimous agreement, again among both members of the public and the commission who spoke, was that the proposed new regulations, essentially the same those used by Keene, were unreasonably stringent, and a very poor fit for Winchester.

Barring the appearance of someone who actually supports these regulations, there seems to be no reason to even discuss them at the public hearing Jan. 27. Rather, that hearing could be very productive as an opportunity to discuss what kinds of guidelines various people would actually support. The guidelines for a heritage village district seemed promising, since those districts seem to enable their own grant-writing.

I hope to get a chance to research them before the hearing.

In conclusion, it’s a rule of thumb that historic preservation is a plus for development. A 2005 report by the Brookings Institution says, “Nearly any way the effects are measured, be they direct or indirect, historic preservation tends to yield significant benefits to the economy.”

A 2011 report to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation said that the positive influence spreads beyond just property values: “Historic preservation has become a fundamental tool for strengthening American communities. It has proven to be an effective tool for a wide range of public goals including small business incubation, affordable housing, sustainable development, neighborhood stabilization, center city revitalization, job creation, promotion of the arts and culture, small town renewal, heritage tourism, economic development, and others.”

I believe that the historic district ordinance has been protecting interesting and beautiful structures that tell Winchester’s history. We need to ensure that protection by keeping that ordinance in place, getting it working more smoothly, and starting to employ it as the foundation stone for strong economic development.

Paul Dobbs
39 Purcell Road


Good Luck Winchester said...

This is what happens when people who don't think they have to play by the rules and are in a position of power get a death grip on your town. From reading about this fight over the past year, I would have to think that someone is not telling the truth about the plans for some of this property from the beginning.

Anonymous said...

We must have been at 2 different meetings? The 2 I attended had very little support for the HDC, The overwhelming majority of the crowd was in favor of abolishing it.
I guess its human nature to only see what you want to see.

Anonymous said...

^ yes, you obviously are blind. There were lots of positives that came out of the second meeting and many who spoke up in defense of keeping the HDC. You obviously are one in favor of abolishing the commission.

Anonymous said...

It seems eye opening that none of the few people who want to see this HDC stay don't actually live in a HDC district.
It seems very easy to support something that has no bearing on your own property and house.
Case in point, Paul, Cindy & Kim do not live in said districts.

are you for real? said...

What difference would that make? Rules and regulations on the books, right or wrong, have been followed by the committee members.
The screw ups happened and the trouble started when Sharra put herself in between the applicants and the committee and went around them. You'd have to ask her why she felt she was empowered to do this or if it was just her way of getting back at people who had prevented her from selling her house to the Dollar Store bunch. As we all know she can be very vindictive and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. None of the people on the committee wrote the bylaws, they just enforced them to the best of their ability.. It's obvious you have a personal grudge against those people you mentioned, they aren't even members of the committee. Before you post some more nonsense you should at least know who's on the committee before you point more fingers.

Anonymous said...

I am for real.
This issue for me has nothing to do with who serves on the HDC board, nor does it have anything to do with Maggie sharra as far as I'm concerned.
I mentioned those 3 names because they recently defended the HDC I did not say anything about them being board members my point was they are in support of something that does not affect them. Is there anyone who actually lives in the historic district who supports it? If so speak up.
The HDC has been causing problems for us home owners long before Sharra and this mess with her house on main st, you keep trying to put this whole thing on sharra and yet there was many people at these meetings supporting the warrant to disband the HDC who were not and have nothing to do with sharra but have suffered through tons of un-needed BS because of the HDC and the districts, there was also a lot more signatures on the petitioned warrant article that did not include Maggie Sharra.
So for one last time, this issue for me has nothing to do with who serves on the HDC board, nor does it have anything to do with Maggie sharra, as far as I'm concerned.