2013-09-19 / Front Page

Shoreby Hill hits snag in becoming historic zone

Neighborhood’s private roads cause for concern
By Margo Sullivan

A problem has complicated the efforts of Lower Shoreby Hill residents to preserve their neighborhood by becoming a historic district, the Town Council indicated Monday night.

Councilor Mary Meagher on Sept. 16 said because Shoreby Hill is accessed by a private road, and the neighborhood association could close the road to the public at any time, she could not support the use of public funds to create special zoning there. At her suggestion, the council continued the public hearing until Nov. 18 to give the supporters time to respond.

“This is uncomfortable for everyone,” Meagher said. “This satisfied no one.”

Councilor Eugene Mihaly and the other councilors backed Meagher’s assessment of the issue.

“I would associate myself with [Meagher’s] comments,” he said. “A historic district with private roads is almost a contradiction in terms.”

The next step will be up to the Lower Shoreby Hill Association, the councilors indicated. Meagher asked the residents if the Nov. 18 continuation would give them enough time to respond.

“I don’t know what to say,” Betty Hubbard replied.

The councilors indicated they would poll the neighborhood’s residents to see how many are in favor of historic zoning. They would also like to discuss what “enforceable assurances” could be made to give the public access to the roads.

Jack Hubbard asked if the council wants to take over the maintenance of the roads.

Council President Kristine Trocki suggested everyone “go back and reflect” on the night’s discussion.

“We’ve taken this information,” she said. “It’s been a long night. What you’re hearing is, collectively, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of this being a public expense and a public goal in a private setting. It’s really up to the Lower Shoreby Hill Association to provide us with ways and thoughts as to how we address these concerns.”

Trocki said by continuing the public hearing, the councilors are not closing down the debate. During the next two months, people can submit comments and supporting documents to Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom. There will be more opportunity at the November meeting to speak out, she said.

According to Trocki, the council did not need to make a snap decision about the historic district.

“We want to be thoughtful about how we proceed,” she said. “We need this additional time and we’d like to hear back from you.”

Trocki had established ground rules at the beginning of the meeting and said two hours would be allotted for the discussion. She asked people not to repeat points, but simply say if they concur or disagree.

Meagher spoke briefly at the beginning of the session to report a resident had asked her to recuse herself from the decision. She is an architect, and the question was raised about whether there was a potential conflict of interest. After consulting with Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, who is also the attorney for the state Ethics Commission, she decided not to recuse herself from the discussion or vote.

Of the councilors, Meagher said she was most interested in the historic district and was an admirer of Lower Shoreby Hill.

“I am in favor of using the historic district commission for preserving this neighborhood,” she said, calling the architecture and landscape “truly remarkable.”

Meagher said the neighborhood represents “an emerging American identity” for U.S. architecture, and the landscape shows an effort to “bring the rural or picturesque ideal into town.”

She also answered several objections about the cost to the town, but ultimately, she said she could not overlook the “issue of private roads.” Although Lower Shoreby Hill does not typically close the roads, “a future association may be less friendly,” she said. Meagher suggested it would be up to the residents to return to the council with “some kind of assurance” about the public’s right to access the roads.

The issue about the private roads surfaced early during more than two hours of public comment. Arlene Seraichyk, a Jamestown resident, asked the councilors if the creation of the historic district would make Shoreby Hill “more accessible or less accessible.” She also wanted to know if the new zoning would prevent the town from using the green for the Christmas pageant and for community concerts.

Shelley Widoff, an Upper Shoreby Hill resident who opposes the new district, said in a letter to the council that the majority of homes in the neighborhood are not in public view. According to Widoff, that’s a significant issue because people would have to trespass over private roads to see them and appreciate the architectural value.

However, Elizabeth Delude- Dix, a Jamestown resident who works in historic preservation, said Tuxedo Park in New York is an example of an historic district on private roads. Delude-Dix said Ernest Bowditch designed both Shoreby Hill and Tuxedo Park.

But the precedent did not sway Mihaly. Even though there may be another such development somewhere in the country, he said, he still could not back using public resources to preserving a special sense of place only to benefit a private group.

“It does not compute,” he said.

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