Saturday, June 2, 2007

Preservation legislation subject of public hearing


Northport’s picturesque Main Street is one of its chief assets as far as the value of homes as well as drawing outside visitors. That’s according to Mayor George Doll, at right in photo, and Trustee Henry Tobin, at left, among others, who are pressing for amended Architectural Historic Review Board legislation that will protect buildings that have historic significance.

“It came to our attention that our beautiful buildings, which represent Northport, are protected from renovation but not from elimination. When we began looking at the ‘Archie’s’ code closer we realized that they can deny a demolition permit but it’s not binding,” Mayor Doll said in an interview Tuesday.

“We found someone can apply to Archie’s for a demo permit and they can deny it but then the person can just say, ‘Thank you very much’ and go get their demo permit from the Building Department. We went to [Village Attorney] Jim Matthews and said we want to make it binding. He said we had to have a reason for denying the demolition permit and the way we can do that is through historic preservation legislation. But this really doesn’t change much. People still need to come before the Archie’s for approval on facades and signs. All that changes is the Archie’s can deny a demo permit on the grounds of historical significance.”

The law only applies to the downtown business zones A and B, which are Main Street from Ocean Avenue to the Harbor and the short, adjacent sections of Bayview, Woodbine, and Scudder that contain businesses. “No residential zones are affected and none of the other business zones are affected,” Trustee Tobin said. “This will give everyone a chance to observe the law in action in a limited area before any decision is made whether to apply historic preservation elsewhere.”
A public hearing will be held to consider the legislation June 5 at 7 p.m. at Village Hall.
Trustee Tobin said that municipalities around the country spend millions attempting to create a façade as beautiful as Northport’s Main Street and that the Archies are not making purely subjective decisions. “I don’t want to start passing on which buildings would qualify as worth preserving. I’m not a professional. I’d rather leave that up to the Board members appointed by elected officials. Those people are on the Archie’s because of their expertise.” The Archie’s is a seven-member board chaired by Leonard Poveromo made up mainly of architects and designers but also those schooled in Northport Village history such as newest members Dan Sheehan, who leads tours for the Northport Historical Society, and Tom Newton who has lived his entire life in Northport and has spent endless days exploring the Village’s nooks and crannies.
“Northport's nonresidential buildings are already under the review of the Architectural and Historic Review Board and the major additional regulation this bill will add is a more orderly and enforceable review of demolition,” Trustee Tobin said.
“People don’t come here just to shop and eat here,” Mayor Doll said Wednesday as he stood with Trustee Tobin on the northwest corner of Main Street and Woodbine, giving him a clear vantage point to view many of the buildings he hopes to protect. “They can do that in one stop at the mall. They come because it is such a nice place. I want my grandchildren to be able to stand here and see this same view”
As if on cue, four busloads of schoolchildren disembarked for a weekday invasion of the Village. When Trustee Tobin asked one of the supervisors why they had come to Northport, he was told, ‘Because it’s an awesome Village.’
Trustee Tom Kehoe agrees that Northport Village is ‘awesome,’ but he is against fast-tracking the code amendment and is concerned about adding another level of bureaucracy to the process.
“I am more concerned about individual property owners rights than I am about a historical building,” he said. “The problem with creating something like this is that it becomes another layer so to speak that’s superimposed upon a group of people that means if they want to do something they now have to appeal to a higher authority to get something done, whether it’s the Archies or the Planning Board or a historic body if we decide to do that.
I’m always concerned whenever you try to do something like this that individual rights get stepped on and I want to make darn sure everyone has read this and understands it. I’m not going to rush on this. We’re going to be deliberate because once this goes into effect, it’s a slam-dunk and it will be in effect forever. Or at least for a long time. Property owners might not be able to do what they want to do. I want to know the pluses and the minuses. I think we’re going to have several public hearings if I have to go up and down Main Street and drag the owners in.”
Mayor Doll said the Board of Trustees would hold as many meetings as it takes.
“If there’s an interest we will hold more meetings,” he said. “If there’s not we will likely move to vote on it.” If that happens, the amendment will likely passes as Deputy Mayor Arlene Handel and Trustee Ed Perlin have made indications in the past that they support the amendment.
And, according to Trustee Tobin, a lot of time has already been spent on the issue. “This proposed law follows more than five years of extensive public work and discussion, including several researched proposals by a mayoral committee and Village attorneys, presentations by professionals at two public meetings sponsored by the Northport Historical Society during the last year, several workshops held during the last half year by the current Board, a meeting with one of the senior staff of the New York State Historical Preservation Office and conversations with other senior staff, review of and public availability of SHPO's model law and laws adopted by other municipalities on Long Island as well as supplementary material provided by SHPO, and discussions at various regular meetings of the current Village Board,” he said. “We have received and benefited from public comment at every step of the way during the last five years. I hope that residents will also come and comment at our next meeting, for which we have scheduled a public hearing and after which we may vote on the proposal.”

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