Historic Preservation vs. Commercial Development

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly is aware that I am heartbroken each time I see an old building fall.   The aged Victorian above was torn down in the early 1980’s to make room for a parking lot for a pizzeria.  Many people in our little hamlet tried to save it, but the owner’s rights made its  destruction possible.   He claimed that it would cost too much to renovate the old house, which had once belonged to one of the founding fathers of our little community.  Closely adjoining the property is the burial vault for many members of the founding family of our community.  This property also became home to a member of our community who ran a small business in front of the house for years; his store was a gathering spot for neighbors, with gas pumps, ice cream, soup, sandwiches, and time for conversations — many memories were made here.  When the house was destroyed, the shop out front was renovated into a pizzeria, and the lot behind was vacant. 

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The pizzeria remained in business at the corner for a few years, changing hands at one point, until it was renovated into an upscale Italian restaurant — a lovely building with charm and delicious food.  Now, that business, too, has left, and the building has remained empty for a year or more.

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This property carries the essence of a great deal of history; memories abound for those of us who live here and those who grew up here.  Our little hamlet consists of a mile-long strip that has been designated a National Historic District.  The original homes of four members of the founding family are still lovingly cared for by their present owners, and the district itself is filled with lovely homes that were built during the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The residents take pride in our beautiful historic treasures.  

Until now, there has been no large-scale development within our small district.  That is about to change; a developer is submitting plans for a bank and three rectangular 8-unit apartment buildings to be built on this historic lot.  And, of course, the residents of our quiet little community are going to do everything in our power to protect the history that has been lived out on this lot.  This is no place for a modern-looking development.  We have enough of that a half mile up the street — there is a roundabout, grocery stores, several banks, restaurants, and a multitude of apartment buildings, which took the place of woods and fields and pretty homes.  We do not need another bank; we do not need more apartments!

The problem we face is a daunting one.  Our town government has generally shown little interest in historic value.  It is more concerned with growing its tax base, and those apartments and a bank would  certainly provide more tax base.  We have to convince these officials there is something more important than money.  We have to show them that we love our quiet little historic district and the memories that people have carried with them as they moved on from the area.  We must come up with possible alternatives that might appease the town, while remaining true to the heritage of this plot of land.

We are all realistic; we know we face an uphill battle, because we have seen other old buildings and farms fall, as big box stores, shopping malls, and housing developments take their place.  This plot is actually located at the heart of our historic district; this is the corner where the original toll gate stood on the plank road that our forefathers traversed.  It is heartbreaking to think of a bank and apartments here.  Personally, I feel we have given enough to “progress” — the commercial area up the road a bit is our contribution to economic growth.  

Many of us who live here have spent the better part of our lives here.  These old houses and the neighbors who surround us make this a place where we are content.  Is it too much to ask that our town government consider our quality of life as they make their decision on this developer’s plan?  I’m certain alternatives can be found for this property which would be a good compromise between saving the historic flavor of our district and increasing the town’s coffers.

We are prepared to fight for what we love!! 

2 thoughts on “Historic Preservation vs. Commercial Development

  1. I would much imagine many of the same things were said back in 1955 when Delaware Plaza was built, and you can see all the commentary said in the Spotlight in the 1980;s when the high school was built.

    I believe your argument that the Town is disinterested in preserving history is a falsehood, as much of the Town with the exception of Glenmont’s 9W corridor (long, long empty…) is pretty darn similar to 1979 when my family moved to Delmar.

    If the community is all that concerned, form a coalition and buy the land. That corner has long been problematic for traffic, and really needs be redesigned.

    Instead of ranting about historic districts and proclaiming NIMBY, perhaps realize changes outside the Town have significant impacts on the character of certain corridors, and work with the Town to create positive change that works for all….

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  2. We are working with the Town, but I don’t have high hopes. And, I do not fit into the NIMBY category, because I value historic properties everywhere, not just in my back yard. Some communities are more inclined to protect their historic areas, and many beautiful areas have been preserved throughout the country.

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