2007-06-07 / News

Benefits of historic districts to be discussed at June 21 meeting

By Michaela Kennedy

Stone chimneys rise above gabled roofs. Columned verandas stand below shed dormers. Painted wood trim work accents weathered wood shingles. These architectural sights are only a few of the designs to be preserved if historic preservation is formalized in Jamestown.

The Shoreby Hill Historic District study committee, formed by members of the Shoreby Hill Association, will hold an open talk at the library on June 21. Pamela Kennedy, deputy director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) is invited as the featured speaker. Kennedy, a former island resident, will offer her expertise on how communities adopt a historic district ordinance and what signifi- cance it could hold for Jamestown. She will also provide information on financial incentives available for residents in historic districts.

At present, no historic district exists on the island. However, some homes are listed on the National Register, and a number of areas are labeled as being of historic significance, according to the state historical commission. Committee members agree that these recognitions offer strength to the possibility of obtaining zoning for a historic district.

The RIHPHC defines a local historic district zone as a special zoning area created by a community to help save historic buildings and to preserve the special sense of time and place that exists in some parts of a community. A community with this special zoning monitors and guides construction activity in its historic areas. Currently, thirteen communities in the state have adopted local historic district zoning.

The committee from Shoreby Hill will release a working document at the meeting, which outlines benefits and drawbacks to such a designation. Arguments in favor of a historic district are strong, including enhancement of property values and opportunity for tax credits. At the very least, a historic district ordinance would preserve the character of a neighborhood, as stated in the initial overview of the committee's report.

The draft compiled by the committee also outlines information about state programs offered to help historic district home owners meet the costs of maintaining their historic properties. In addition to tax incentives, preservation easements, low-interest loans and architects are available for help with restoration projects through RIHPHC.

Town documents show that two-thirds or more of all dwellings in Shoreby Hill were built between 1898 and 1936, with few alterations to date. By 1936, a total of 65 homes stood in this area. The committee expressed concern that some of them were demolished in recent years, and replaced with larger structures that do not necessarily consider the character of the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, the committee acknowledges that such a district cannot be implemented unilaterally. A historic district ordinance, which would require a review board, must be approved by the town.

The idea of creating a historic district in Jamestown has been tossed about for decades. Now, Shoreby Hill residents have taken the lead and formalized a discussion about the possibility. The talk on June 21 offers Shoreby Hill as a first consideration, but part of the goal is to spark interest in an island-wide discussion. The main question driving the study committee is whether Jamestown residents want a historic district. "The only way to find out is by talking about it," says committee member Betty Hubbard.

For more information about the historic district study, e-mail Jim Buttrick at yankeereal@aol.com or Betty Hubbard at jackhub@aol. com.

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