Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Questions Historic District

Letter to Editor published in Freeman's Journal,
Cooperstown, N.Y., May 7, 1999

To the Editor:

The proposed Glimmerglass National Register District is innocent sounding, but the controversy attached to the proposal points to an unanswered question. This controversy unfairly pits individuals who are concerned about regulation of their homes and businesses against people who would like to protect the historical beauty of the area.

The unanswered question is: Does designation to the National Historic Register result in regulation of private property?

The answer is yes.

How is this true when the designation has no new local rules attached to it dictating the color paint, the type of siding, the requirement for architectural review and many other requirements which people fear because they are associated with historical registration?

How can this be true when the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's spokesperson, Kathleen LaFrank, has stated that people are just confused and are mixing local laws, which she says will not regulate the Glimmerglass District, and the national listing?

The reason lies in SEQRA, the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.

SEQRA requires that once a building is placed on the National Historic register it becomes entitled to protection as an important historic resource. Under this law, every state and local agency must take into account the historic preservation of such an important building in any action the agency takes.

SEQRA is one of the most powerful and most often used environmental laws in this state.

Even if the local building department or zoning agency neglects to scrutinize the application for deviance from historic materials and architectural consistency, a preservation group or any local citizen with enough money can sue to require lengthy reviews of the application. During expensive public hearings and procedures, possibly in court, the property owner may have to pay to hire an architect and possibly a historian to research the original construction and then design compatible architecture.

This is how SEQRA brings in the requirement for such expensive construction as a real slate roof, old-fashioned, historically accurate windows and other features too elaborate to enumerate.

The problems for the property owner do not necessarily stop with difficulties dealing with building and zoning authorities. The owner may also be denied a mortgage if a bank judges that the use of the property will be restricted as a result of the historic registration.

Why did the officials representing the State of New York deceive the public by not revealing SEQRA's enforcement link to designation to the National Register?

- Carol W. LaGrasse
President, Property Rights
Foundation of America, Inc.
PO Box 75, Stony Creek, NY 12878

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