2011-05-26 / Front Page

Shoreby Hill nomination will proceed

By Phil Zahodiakin

The pending nomination of Shoreby Hill for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places will proceed regardless of any rumored opposition from some of the neighborhood’s residents, Town Council President Mike Schnack said during this week’s workshop on the proposed listing.

The May 23 workshop was intended to update the council on the status of the pending National Reg- ister nomination, which originally gained traction with the previous Town Council. The proposed nomination will be reviewed at a public meeting of the state’s Historical Heritage and Preservation Commission, which forwards nominations to the National Register, next month.

The Preservation Commission had identified Shoreby Hill as a candidate for National Register listing after reviewing the results of its 1995 survey of Rhode Island’s coastal neighborhoods. It was the current council that launched the paperwork process in support of a nomination.

The “take away” message from the earlier council meetings was reiterated at this week’s workshop by the Preservation Commission’s deputy director, Rick Greenwood, who said that any property-use restrictions resulting from a National Register listing “would be very minimal.”

In fact, Greenwood added, any restrictions are keyed to property owners who are funding their projects with federal money, such as grants to convert a property into affordable housing. Otherwise, a National Register listing wouldn’t impose any restrictions on enhancements or modifications to a house.

Shoreby Hill has 136 structures, 83 of which are houses, and eight vacant lots. The neighborhood was a farm for over a century before its acquisition by St. Louis investors, who built the first group of large, Queen Anne-style homes as summer residences.

Those first eight houses were built between 1898 and 1903; the second wave of construction followed from 1911 through 1931, when 50 more houses and bungalows were built.

If the Preservation Commission nominates the properties for a National Register listing, and they end up being listed, the town’s building official would still have the final say over any proposed modifications to the houses.

Council member Bob Bowen said that he has heard concerns that a National Register listing “wouldn’t preclude any out-ofcharacter changes” to the properties, which raises the question: What are the benefits of the listing?

Greenwood pointed out that the state has a program offering lowinterest loans and tax credits for repairs to listed houses (although the future of that funding is uncertain), and there are some federal incentives for repairs, as well. He also noted that the impact of a National Register listing on property values is impossible to predict because the listings are granted to such a wide range of structures.

He added that, “The majority of studies say that, yes, property values increase or remain stable in historic districts that are locally established.”

Otherwise, Greenwood pointed out, a National Register listing for Shoreby Hill would serve primarily to acknowledge that the neighborhood “is such a well-done exemplar of a planned shore community.” Some councilors are concerned that the residents of Upper and Lower Shoreby Hill have a difference of opinion on the value of a listing.

“We could have a situation where Upper Shoreby Hill is against a nomination and Lower Shoreby Hill supports a nomination,” said Bowen, adding that it might be best to limit the nomination to Lower Shoreby Hill. Bowen also said that he was “concerned about the perception that a listing would prevent people from changing their storm windows.”

Councilor Mike White, who served on the council that originally backed the idea of a nomination, replied that “this is not a slippery slope kind of thing.”

Under the state nomination procedures, if more than 50 percent of a neighborhood submits to the Preservation Commission letters opposing a nomination, then the commission would not advance the nomination to the National Register. Murphy warned that perceptions or some other driver could cause Upper Shoreby Hill to oppose the nomination, “and we could lose the whole thing.”

Murphy continued, “Maybe the town needs to find out if Upper Shoreby Hill is on board with this.”

After former Planning Commission Chairwoman Betty Hubbard pointed out that an equal number of Upper and Lower Shoreby Hill residents were engaged in the studies whose results were subsequently presented to Jamestown officials, Schnack noted that the purpose of the workshop was purely informational, and added that he didn’t have any interest in re-examining the levels of support for a nomination.

“I am not about to derail this process at the 11th hour,” Schnack said. “If Upper Shoreby Hill wants to kill [the nomination] they can send letters.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the National Register is attracting interest elsewhere on the island. Bowen, for example, said he has heard that Green Lane residents have inquired about a listing, prompting Schnack to remark, “Let’s just do the whole island.”

The Preservation Commission will meet to review the proposed Shoreby Hill nomination on the morning of June 8 at the Old Rhode Island State House at 150 Benefit St. in Providence.

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