Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Cumberland Lincoln 11-27-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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6 CUMBERLAND NOVEMBER 27-DECEMBER 4, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | CUMBERLAND LINCOLN EDITION Road, said Stevens. That destruction was a "terrible tragedy," he said, and many other buildings of significance have been destroyed or inappropri- ately altered in recent years. "The tearing away of Cumberland's historic fabric is not necessary. It is not good for our quality of life, and it erodes our sense of place and com- munity character," said Stevens. One of the most prominent build- ings the town is looking to save is the former St. Patrick Church on Broad Street, a building in jeopardy of being lost as the land is marketed for other uses. The town is hiring a consultant spe- cializing in adaptive reuse of church- es to create a report on the economic viability of redeveloping that site, with an emphasis on density and parking relief that would be adequate for reinvestment in the building. "We don't need to lose this church to another national drug store chain," Stevens told the council. That report would provide a foun- dation for conversations with the Diocese of Providence about pre- serving the property while allowing a purchase at fair market value, he said. The most effective means of pro- tecting additional buildings is for the council to enact local historic districts, said Stevens. Within those districts, all demolition, new con- struction, and exterior alterations, but not interior changes, would have to be approved by the Historic District Commission. In having to submit a plan to the town for upgrading a building, a property owner benefits from the technical review that would then take place, said Stevens. Most applica- tions would be approved, and most project designs would be improved through the process. Property values are proven to stay stronger in local historic districts. Though there's no official pro- posal yet for the council to consider, Stevens said the town would rely on a local property owners' guide devel- oped last year on best practices for restoring properties in local historic districts, as well as a 1998 survey listing the town's properties of signifi- cance. Town staff would comb through a master list and select the 25 most significant properties that are at potential risk of being destroyed, said Stevens. A letter to homeown- ers would notify them of the town's sense of urgency of having them included. As an incentive, said Stevens, the council should consider an ordi- nance authorizing a modest prop- erty tax reduction for those owners that undertake substantial exterior maintenance or restoration proj- ects through the Historic District Commission's property owners' guide. In other planned moves, the town would: • Approach the General Assembly about authorizing the town to fore- stall demolition of significant prop- erties that are not on the National Register of Historic Places. • Have the Building Department enforce "demolition by neglect" pro- visions in code to prevent properties from falling into disrepair. • Ask Historic District Commission members to volunteer to perform individual inspections, creating a sec- ond tier of priority property sites. • And appoint a qualified person to replace the late Historic District Commission Chairman Dave Balfour, "one of our town's finest his- toric preservation champions," said Stevens, making sure Balfour's legacy of dedication to Cumberland's his- tory lives on. New Town Planner Glenn Modica, Town Solicitor Kelley Morris, and Mayor Jeff Mutter all played big roles in drafting this plan, said Stevens. Councilor Scott Schmitt said he would want to see residents' tax break based only on the improve- ments and not the overall value of a property, saying he doesn't want to see other residents start "subsidiz- ing these particular property own- ers." For instance, if someone did $50,000 worth of improvements on a $100,000 home, the break would only be on the $50,000. Stevens said he's confident officials can draft a plan based on best prac- tices everyone can get behind. Mutter said the idea in providing a financial incentive mirrored the town's previous effort to maintain farmland. It recognizes that if the effort is important to the town, "then perhaps we need to entice that," he said. The town would be showing appreciation to homeowners who maintain the exterior of their home in a way that preserves the town's history. Nothing is drafted yet, he said, and officials will be looking at what other municipalities do and what the state enables. Schmitt said he wants to try to bal- ance owners' rights with the needs of an initiative such as this. He said he can see the tax break being an issue, but is keeping an open mind. Stevens said a local incentive helps residents "move into the mindset of restoration." BREEZE PHOTO BY ETHAN SHOREY The town is seeking measures to help protect historic properties such as ST. PATRICK CHURCH on Broad Street. PRESERVE From Page One See HISTORIC, Page 18

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