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Making a case for historic preservation

Members of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee Monday night shied away from language requiring that historic houses be subject to regulations that could affect changes owners might want to make to their properties.

The concern was whether the Town would have the ability to enforce requirements affecting what owners could do to maintain the historical significance of privately-owned structures.

Members said some South Fork communities struggled to find ways to enforce requirements. But no one mentioned Greenport Village, which has long had a Historic Preservation Commission acting on requested changes to properties in its historic district.

The commission has generally reserved its decisions affecting changes that can be seen from the outside of a house.

There are hardship reasons a property owner can cite for asking not to be held to certain requirements. The Village website contains forms and steps involved in applying for changes to houses in the historic district.

The discussion on Shelter Island Monday night led to CPAC member Lily Hoffman saying she thought the town can’t legislate changes in privately owned houses, but called for more information from Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis and Shelter Island Historical Society Executive Director Nanette Lawrenson for input before moving forward with language for the draft document.

Ms. Lagudis told the Reporter Tuesday morning the Heights is a historic district with an Architectural Review Committee with specific guidelines. Because the Heights isn’t a municipality, it is more difficult to enforce those guidelines, she said.

“We try to preserve what we have,” Ms. Lagudis said, noting she would favor the town taking steps to create an Historic Advisory Committee as recommended by its existing Comprehensive Plan and outlined in its Code.

In the Heights, she isn’t looking to enforce every single detail for houses, but recognizes there are many benefits to maintaining the historic significance that many residents embrace. What the Heights has done is to get listed on both the New York State and National Registries of Historic Districts.

“We have jewels everywhere,” Ms. Lagudis said, including the Heights and many other areas of town. She favors strong language in the updated Comprehensive Plan being drafted.

Once historic structures are lost, they can never be recaptured, Ms. Lagudis said.

There are benefits to owning such a house, said Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla, a Comprehensive Plan Task Force member. She pointed to the ability owners of historic houses have to apply for grant money that can help meet costs involved in maintaining the historic significance of those structures.

Ms. Lawrenson couldn’t be reached for comment.

Members discussed language related to cultural resources and their relationship to community character, and plan to spend the next month reviewing the existing Comprehensive Plan and suggestions made by consultants who were hired last year to guide creation of an updated plan.

Once the Comprehensive Plan Task Force and Advisory Committee completes work on the draft of significant sections, members will be reaching out to the wider community for more input. But meetings are public and afford an opportunity for input on a regular basis. The next meeting is slated for April 25 at 6:30 p.m. and the Zoom access to observe and participate is available on the town website under the Committee tab.