Town board passes new historic district boundaries

By Patricia Adams
Roxbury held a meeting Monday to hear public comments about the historic preservation district proposed by Roxbury’s preservation commission. The district, which closely follows the hamlet’s 2003 listing on State and National Register of Historic Places, is the first step in establishing basic standards to protect the hamlet’s significant historic properties and its historic character.
Roxbury’s Historic Preservation Law was passed this summer after a year of public comment and modifications. It established a commission of local volunteers that will define a historic district and set standards that will guide review of new construction and demolition of any historic property. The proposed district runs along Main and Bridge streets and includes Roosevelt Avenue, Lake Street, a short portion of county Highway 41 as well as Shephard Hills.
The Roxbury law doesn’t affect how buildings are used or surface modifications like vinyl windows, vinyl siding, or paint colors. It only covers new construction, demolition, or moving a property. The historic preservation commission will advise on those major projects to ensure that the historic value of a property is not diminished or that the character of the district is not undermined by incongruous new construction.
Commission member Peg Ellsworth noted that the town has “leveraged thousands of dollars in grants for heritage tourism because of Roxbury’s great stock of historical architecture. For every dollar spent on heritage tourism, it’s been shown that tourism brings in another seven dollars” to the area. Ellsworth explained that the district boundary cannot be hopscotch or “spotted” from one historic property to another, that it has to be continuous and includes both “contributing (historic)” and “non-contributing“ properties. Kevin Millar, who now lives in Owego, said that he thought the preservation rules there had helped keep property values solid and increased tourism visits and grant opportunities. 
Ed Kirstein of Roosevelt Avenue wanted to know, if streets behind Main Street like his own are in the district, would these less visible areas be included in grant opportunities, like new sidewalks? Commission members agreed that such considerations should come into play as grant opportunities arise. Federal tax credits are available for historic property owners who modify their homes while maintaining their homes’ historic value. 
Jean Millar asked what specific restrictions would be placed on district properties. The commission members clarified that standards are just guidelines and property changes would not have to adhere to specific rules. “The goal here is not to prohibit, just to advise,” said Town Councilman Steve Walker. 
Now that the town board has approved the proposed district, the commission will draft basic standards for review of new construction or demolition within the district. Those draft standards will also be subject to public comment at a hearing, before the guidelines are voted on by the Town Board. To find out more about the ordinance or read minutes of the hearing, visit www.roxburyny.com.