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City crafting preservation ordinance

The city's Historic Preservation Committee is hard at work crafting a proposed preservation ordinance.

Completion is still a few months away, said Robert Hagen, a retired Delphi Thermal and Interior executive. He said the purpose of the work is to "protect people who have something of value."

"We don't want to convey an ominous threat as to what people can do with private property," Hagen said. He said the city wants to protect a property owner who wants to keep up his historic home or business from having its value dragged down by a neighbor who doesn't.

"Sometimes that's expensive, and a person could say, 'I'm just going to put aluminum siding on it,' " Hagen said. "If there's no ordinance, you can do that."

The ordinance would likely create districts within the city where exterior alterations in properties could not be made without permission from a historic preservation commission.

Hagen said the panel hopes affected property owners will buy into the concept.

"What they have agreed is their properties are historic, they like that idea and they're proud to keep it that way," he said.

The city already has passed laws to help homeowners who undertake major home improvements.

A project costing more than $3,000 that would increase a home's assessed valuation is eligible for an eight-year tax abatement, based on a sliding scale of values. There's also an eight-year tax break for reconverting a multiple dwelling to a one- or two-family home.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker, who appointed the 10-member panel in June, said he wants to make sure the city goes through the state-prescribed preservation process correctly and writes an ordinance that will bring a certification from Albany.

"A certified government will give it more teeth," Tucker said.

Hagen said a certified locality can obtain funds and assistance from the State Historic Preservation Office and other agencies to implement a preservation program.

He said his committee has reviewed the state's model preservation ordinance and laws passed locally by North Tonawanda, Lewiston, Clarence, Albion, Lancaster, Orchard Park and East Aurora.

"There are communities that try to use a soft-glove approach," Hagen said. For example, he said, East Aurora allows property owners to opt out of preservation rules.

"That's like not having a law. We want owners to accept this as a positive thing," Hagen said.

Hagen said Lockport's law is 80 percent done, although there will be a chance for public input before the Common Council acts on it.

The committee is to meet this week with Buffalo architect Clinton E. Brown, a specialist in reuse of old buildings, to discuss provisions of the ordinance.

About 20 properties in Lockport already have some sort of historic designation, including several stone houses dating from the early- to mid-19th century; some of the older public buildings include the Niagara County Courthouse and Clerk's Office, the Old Post Office and the Col. Bond House.

Also, in 1978 two historic districts were named. The Lowertown Historic District begins at the top of Market Street hill and runs along the Erie Canal, while a Lockport Industrial District is bounded by the canal and Gooding, Clinton and Water streets, Hagen said.

Neither district has produced anything special in terms of results, Hagen said.


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