Jennifer Schwartz Berky
As a resident of Kingston and a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission and Hudson River Valley Greenway, I am committed to helping Kingston grow economically while honoring its past.
“Demolition by Neglect” is the term used to describe a situation in which a property owner allows a historic property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair. Sometimes this is intentional in order to circumvent historic preservation regulations. Sometimes demolition by neglect occurs when an owner essentially abandons a historic property. In other cases, the costs of repairs to older buildings may be prohibitive and deferred maintenance causes economic hardship.
Kingston needs to value its historic neighborhoods AND the people who live in them. Both deserve support and affirmative policies to make the community an affordable place where people of different economic means can proudly maintain their properties.
We need an affirmative maintenance policy in Kingston, not a policy that encourages neglect that ultimately leads to the kind of demolition we are now seeing. In many cases, these properties would simply benefit from the most basic of supports and incentives.
There are several incentive programs that have helped communities throughout the country and New York State to preserve the fabric of communities such as Kingston. There is no one silver bullet to make this happen, however. It requires a coordinated effort that involves the use of incentives, enforcement and working closely with building enforcement officials in coordination with boards such as the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission and organizations such as RUPCO that can provide home and property owners with guidance. Tax incentives, low cost loans, and grants are available to property owners and municipalities that want to provide assistance to property owners. Volunteer crews can be organized.
According the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “Large numbers of historic houses and Main Street buildings in aging communities have been rehabilitated through revolving fund and community investment fund programs. The adoption of new regulatory measures, such as neighborhood conservation districts and tax programs, have also been instrumental in spurring community reinvestment and stabilizing older, historic neighborhoods.” Communities that preserve their historic properties, as well as the many structures that contribute to their historic character, are the ones that have succeeded in attracting economic development through the pride of place they generate.
Here are a few measures recommended by the Trust that have been tested in many cities committed to preserving their historic fabric:
- Require that properties are maintained and major repairs are made on a timely basis;
- Have a good monitoring system in place;
- Adopt and utilize demolition-by-neglect procedures;
- Commit to a course of enforcement; and
- Work closely with building department officials.
Let’s be forward-looking and provide this kind of support to our community so that we can thrive and grow in a city where history is not just our beginning, but something that can withstand the test of time.