JAMESTOWN – To preserve or not to preserve: That is the question, as discussed by the Jamestown Planning Commission last week.
There was much verbatim about the opportunity to make several aging Jamestown homes and buildings historical landmarks, but this did not come without heated discussion.
The crux of the disagreement was based on making people follow an ordinance that would preserve landmarks deemed historical by a commission, or allowing people to voluntarily give up their property that has been deemed historical, but not face punishment if they decided to sell it.
Commission member and Principal Planner for the City of Jamestown Ellen Shadle was a strong believer in the need to create an ordinance that would make people have to turn over their property if it was deemed to be historically valuable.
She cited examples of multiple old Jamestown buildings and homes that had been torn down and replaced with parking lots in support of her argument.
“If there had been an LPO (Local Preservation Ordinance) back in the day…maybe there still would be a Roosevelt Theatre and there wouldn’t be a drug store drive through there,” quipped Shadle. She also voiced her opinion that these renovations didn’t help the “quality” of Jamestown.
However, Commission member Mike Laurin took a different stance.
“In general, I would like to see the ordinance written as if it was purely voluntary. In order to be part of the historical, or have on the historical preservation or under that umbrella, the property owner has to voluntarily do that,” declared Laurin. “I’m okay with [the legislation] not being an ordinance.”
History teacher, Commission member, and City Councilman Thomas Nelson seemed to take up the role of intermediary in the conflict.
“I love the idea of preserving some of these buildings which I would consider a treasure, but you got to balance the business needs of the city with trying to preserve some of those treasures,” said Nelson.
According to Federal Historic Tax Credit data that was presented by Shadle, preservation efforts in New York State created 8,605 jobs and generated $151.6 million in 2019.
Shadle says an issue for the city is when a property owner buys a historic building and then lets the structure fall into disrepair. Over time she says that becomes unusable and feels there must be a regulation to help prevent the scenario.
She suggested a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for people who don’t follow historical landmark preservation zoning laws, something that multiple other board members seemed to disagree with.
“I bet those punishments exist for other zoning laws but I don’t know of anyone who’s ever been prosecuted for that,” noted Nelson.
Ultimately, the meeting ended amicably and the decision was made to move forward with the creation of a regulatory commission and create some form of a rule set to help preserve buildings that have stood in Jamestown for decades, if not centuries.
“I look forward to moving forward in a way that we can either take the existing template and rework language where we need it, remove certain sections of the template, create new sections for the template, in terms of helping us articulate what the goals and objectives of an ordinance might be able to serve,” elaborated Shadle. “Being something stable but not rigid, that can be a tricky thing.”