Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Preservation Boards Mingle in Perinton

Last night the town of Perinton hosted the first annual Preservation Boards & Commissions Fall Networking Event, planned by the Landmark Society’s small but active Boards & Commissions committee.
We had a tremendous turnout of about 60 preservation board and commission members. After introductions and welcoming remarks from our executive director, Joanne Arany, Perinton town supervisor Jim Smith, and Perinton Historic Architecture Commission chair Ann Parks, we heard a whirlwind overview of architectural styles from Cynthia Howk, followed by a quick game of “stump the expert” in which we threw a few surprise images at Cynthia to see how she and the group did at identifying their style and date. Before and after the formal program, the room was full of energetic conversation as board and commission members mingled and shared experiences. From the feedback we’ve received so far, the event was a hit, leaving everyone eager for more training and more networking opportunities.

Almost 30 municipalities in our region have local preservation ordinances, and in each of these there is an appointed group of community residents that may be called a preservation board, preservation commission, architectural review board, historic sites committee, or something similar. (This is not to be confused with a historical society or the town historian, although in some case the local historian is an ex officio member of or advisor to the board.) This is the group charged with identifying and designating local landmarks, reviewing proposed alterations to individual properties and properties in designated districts, and issuing Certificates of Appropriateness to verify that such alterations will be done in conformance with preservation standards.

Each municipality’s ordinance is slightly different, ranging from purely voluntary ordinances with no enforcement powers to stricter controls that seek to maintain the historic character of a property or district. The details of how each board or commission operates vary as well. Each individual board or commission has a different set of specific duties: some are at an early stage of identifying local landmarks and building support for designations, while others have long-established lists of designated landmarks and districts and spend most of their time on design review. Perinton was a great place to hold this event since town leaders have demonstrated strong support for preservation and a long track record of proactive, sophisticated work on behalf of historic resources. When we advise newer boards on how best to conduct themselves, we often recommend that they visit the Perinton board.

The members of these boards and commissions are volunteers who have some level of expertise in the subject of historic preservation. Most ordinances require that board membership include such categories as a Realtor, an architect, and a preservation district resident. They make their judgments on the basis of design guidelines, federal standards, and accepted preservation practice. In their makeup and role within municipal structure, the boards are similar to zoning and planning boards, and indeed all three boards function best when they are in regular contact with one another.

Last night’s event provided a taste of what we intend will be a regular series of opportunities for board/commission members to convene for training and networking. To continue the discussion between these events, we invite all preservation board and commission members in western New York to join our online discussion group where you can share your experiences, ask one another questions, and gain access to a variety of helpful information. Learn more and join the group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LSWNY_Pres_Board_Network/. (If you don’t already have a Yahoo ID, you will be asked to create one, but you can participate in the group using your regular email address if you prefer. To ensure that its group members do not receive spam, Yahoo has stringent anti-spam measures, which you can read about here.) If you are a member of a preservation board or commission, or are just interested in the subject, please join the group - we need a few more members to get real conversations going!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator