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FEARING PRICE TAG, HOMEOWNER FIGHTS LANDMARK DESIGNATION

Eleven years ago, Joe Farage bought a quaint 1840s-vintage stone house on Main Street, virtually a one-of-a-kind pioneer homestead in Amherst.

Farage says that all he wanted was a home.

But he wound up with a piece of local history, which he says has become an albatross around his neck.

Descendents of John and Elizabeth Martin Metz, the Mennonite farmers who, 155 years ago, built the house at 6720 Main, are leading the movement to have it designated a historical landmark under town law.

"It's a signature home on Main Street," said Joan Metz, great-great-granddaughter of John and Elizabeth and one of dozens of children reared in the house through the years.

Farage says he is all for the house's being preserved -- as long as someone else pays for it.

Under a local law, if the house is designated a landmark, the owner would need permission from the Amherst Historic Preservation Commission to demolish it or alter the exterior in any way. That covers everything from light fixtures to sidewalks.

"I think that for the town to put this landmark on me, on my shoulders, is more than I can bear," Farage said.

In fact, he says, the specter of a possible designation, and its accompanying restrictions on alterations, has selling the land, which sits on a heavily commercial stretch of Main Street, virtually impossible. A few potential buyers, he said, have withdrawn offers after they learned of the possible designation.

"I haven't been able to sell it for six years because the house is haunted," he said. "It is haunted by the preservation ghost."

Preservationists worry that Farage intends to demolish the house to make the 1.4 acres it occupies more attractive to developers. This concern has fueled their desire to have the house receive the historical designation.

The law allows the Town Board can designate any property as a landmark, with or without the owner's consent. Since the law was adopted in 1994, six properties in town have been designated. Half of them were privately owned.

Local historians are urging the town to make Farage's house the next building to be designated.

Even in its day, the limestone exterior, constructed from rock mined in local quarries and crafted by skilled masons, was distinctive, according to Andrea Rebeck, founder of the Historic Preservation Commission. Today, it is one of fewer than 10 stone houses in the town, and the only one on Main Street.

Beyond that, the family history in the house is important, historians say. The Metz family settled on Main Street, a stone's throw from what is now Transit Road. On their 100-acre farm, they raised fruits and vegetables, sheep and cows. In their 2 1/2 -story stone house, they raised 10 children. Their descendents stayed in the area, leading quietly distinguished lives as solid citizens throughout the community.

Many local experts say the Metz family and their house epitomize the history of the town.

"Amherst history is not about superfamous world figures," said Village of Williamsville Director Lynn Beman. "It's about people with the courage and insight to settle our town and make our town the way it is. It is the history of the common people."

The Historic Preservation Commission already has recommended designating the house as a landmark. The final decision now rests with the Town Board, which is expected to vote on the matter today.

Farage remains committed to blocking the designation.

He and his wife have had financial difficulties and only recently climbed out of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. He worries that he will not be able to maintain the home.

"Brown ants are eating the mortar. Little black ants are eating the wood," he said. "When you walk across the floors, all the china in the cabinet shakes. The three chimneys are falling down. If it becomes a landmark, I don't know where the funds would come from to keep it up."

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