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STATE GRANT STIRS HISTORIC-PRESERVATION DEBATE

Historic preservation is once again a hot topic in Amherst.

This time the issue is whether to accept a $12,000 state grant for research on whether parts of Amherst should be declared historic-preservation districts.

Currently, Amherst has no such districts. However, a 1997 study identified nine potential districts in Swormville, Eggertsville and Snyder. Living in a historic-preservation district means that owners are limited in the changes they can make in the exterior of their homes. Nonhistorical homes in a district would be subject to the same rules.

"We would not use the grant to go ahead and designate the districts. It would only be used for research," said Nancy Mingus, chairwoman of the Amherst Historic Preservation Committee. "Housing values in historic districts tend to be 10 to 20 percent higher than homes in similar areas."

A few Town Board members, including Bob Brewer, are reluctant to accept the grant because they are not sure whether they want preservation districts. Council members will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday in Town Hall to consider the issue. The meeting is necessary because the state was late in notifying the town that it had received the grant, and the state must have an answer by the end of this month.

Council members are being cautious because historic preservation has proved to be a prickly issue in Amherst.

Many homeowners were put on a list of properties with potential historic significance without their approval. And many of these same residents take issue with the town's current historic-preservation ordinance.

Currently, the Town Board can vote to declare any property historically significant, even if the owner objects. The residents want to require an owner's permission to declare a property a historic landmark.

At least one resident is not happy to hear that a special meeting was called and that the town would not be notifying residents.

"Historic-preservation districts are not necessarily a bad thing," said Donald G. Rackl, who owns an older home on South Ellicott Creek Road. "It is a bad thing when it's done in secrecy. They should communicate with the taxpayers."

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