A work session in Bradford City Council chambers Tuesday outlined proposed changes to the City of Bradford Historic Preservation Ordinance.
Elise Johnson-Schmidt of Johnson-Schmidt & Associates, Architects, based in Corning, N.Y., presented a number of proposed changes to the ordinance as it currently stands.
“I’m blown away by the beauty of the town you have. It is rare to find the historical integrity of your downtown,” Johnson-Schmidt noted at the beginning of her presentation. “You are lucky to have put the effort into saving (Old City Hall). I hope you remember how special this place is.”
Johnson-Schmidt outlined eight main sections her firm recommended changing.
“These changes are important to give the ordinance more teeth,” she said. She also explained that the proposed changes to the ordinance would make it easier to market the historic district to potential investors.
The primary change suggested was to add a section to the application procedures, labeled “Affirmative Maintenance and Repair Requirement.” This section discusses the various aspects of maintaining a building in the historic district and notes that “No owner or person with an interest in real property designated as an individual landmark or included with an historic district shall permit the property to fall into a serious state of disrepair.” The section goes on to specifically outline the various elements of the building that should be kept in good repair.
Johnson-Schmidt explained that these added specifications help the local officials and also deter those who do not live in the area and would purchase a building and use it for equity to invest in other projects.
Code enforcement and council members noted that this is already a scenario in Bradford, as a building on Mechanic Street was purchased by an individual who does not live in the area and who has not made any improvements to the building in the two years they have owned it.
Another proposed change regarded the make-up of the Historical Architectural Review Board itself, decreasing from the current nine members to a board of five members and two alternates. The board, per the recommendation of Johnson-Schmidt, would include a registered architect, a licensed real estate broker, one of the building inspectors of the City of Bradford, one with knowledge of architectural history and others who also have knowledge of and interest in the preservation of the historic district. The terms of the board members should be set at three calendar years, with each member not allowed to serve more than three successive terms unless there are no other qualified applicants to replace them. Currently, board members serve five-year terms.
Still other changes proposed included the requirement of a Certificate of Appropriateness, which would be issued by the commission if the proposed work would not have an adverse effect on the landmark, property, district or neighboring properties. Specific considerations for this are also outlined in the proposed changes; the addition of an optional pre-application meeting to the ordinance, which would help clarify design standards and allow the applicant and HARB to reach an agreement; and finally, the move to include all design guidelines with the ordinance when it is handed out to individuals who own or intend to purchase a building in the historic district.
“I like that this has more teeth. The ordinance currently is too loose and hard to enforce,” said Mayor Tom Riel. “The biggest embarrassment in downtown Bradford sits one-half block from City Hall. I am all for whatever can help to address buildings like that.”
Riel’s reference was to 101 Main Street, the location of CompuTech Computer Repair.
“I think a lot of what we already enforce is similar to this, but the idea to put it all in one place so people don’t have to search for criteria is excellent,” said Sara Andrews, executive director of the Office of Economic and Community Development.
Schmidt-Johnson noted in closing that she has seen investors who had no plans to better a building change their minds when communities have an ordinance like this in place.
Andrews noted that the various changes to Main Street, including the streetscape project and private investment, have made it more of an asset.
“We want investors to think ‘This is where I want to be’ and want to invest here,” Andrews said. “That’s the endgame — we want people to return to the community and invest because we make downtown worth the investment.”
City council and other local officials will have to review the proposed changes, and a vote will be held at a later date.