2009-08-20 / Letters to the Editor

Historic districts: This is the time

A recent letter to the Press questioned whether the creation of historic districts is a worthwhile use of the time of town officials and employees. We strongly argue that it is, and that in fact it is entirely consistent with other town initiatives to preserve its heritage. The recent Charette showed how passionately Jamestowners care about preserving the island as we know it. The resulting report concluded that preserving the character of Jamestown requires action – leaving the town entirely to market forces would result in unwelcome changes. One recommended action was to establish historic districts.

Other major commitments by the town to hold on to what we value include the successful effort to preserve farms through the purchase of development rights and the current re-examination of the zoning code. In the context of re-evaluating the zoning code, historic districts are highly relevant since they are extensions of the town’s zoning. We argue that these efforts directed to the future of the island are among the most worthwhile actions that our offi- cials can take.

Shoreby Hill is appropriate for a historic district. It is a 100-year-old grouping of houses united by their shingled architecture, similar scale, Colonial Revival details and uniform setbacks on a picturesque street pattern. The neighborhood is enjoyed by all who drive along Conanicus Avenue or walk along its roads. Jamestowners likely see Shoreby Hill more often than they see such island icons as Beavertail Lighthouse or the windmill.

Architectural vistas and streetscapes of historic cottages may not have as strong an emotional appeal as rolling farmland, but they are significant and deserve our attention. They are part of the mosaic that defines the character of this place. The farms and historic neighborhoods are both threatened by the same escalating land values that force changes in traditional patterns of use. Historic districts are a compromise between allowing uncontrolled development and freezing neighborhoods in time.

The timeliness of the historic district issue is suggested by the focus on preservation resulting from the Charette report, the reexamination of the zoning code and the fact that teardowns on Shoreby Hill have begun. The Shoreby Hill historic district proposal has been unanimously approved by the Planning Commission. A model state ordinance tweaked for application to Jamestown is available as a starting point.

This is the time.

For more information on historic districts, please attend a meeting at the library on Sunday, Sept. 20, at 3 p.m. Representatives from Shoreby Hill will answer questions and discuss what historic districts do and what they do not do. While all are welcome, Shoreby Hill residents are especially urged to attend.
Jim Buttrick
Betty Hubbard
Shoreby Hill Historic District
Study Committee

Return to top