Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Support the Polish Heritage Historic District

Last night the City Council Ordinance Committee voted 4-1 (Alexander, Bartley, Lisi and Vacon –yea, Chateauneuf- nay) for the creation of a Polish Heritage Historic District (PHHD). The full City Council will have an opportunity to vote on its adoption at our April 7 meeting and will require the vote of 10 councilors. I want to list some key facts that went into my decision to support the District. If you find that you agree with these points, I urge you to call your City Councilors and ask them to support the district as well.

1.       The PHHD guidelines are not overly restrictive or burdensome for property owners.
The PHHD guidelines mimic the ordinances that create and define the Fairfield Ave. Historic District and in many cases are more relaxed because the PHHD has fewer design features to maintain than a residential neighborhood. The guidelines apply ONLY to modifications or improvements to EXTERNAL architectural features that are in public view from a public way.
You can see the guidelines here (Sec. 18-105(2) Local Historic District Guidelines- Polish Heritage Historic District) and a map of the district here.

2.       The PHHD does not prohibit the demolition, transfer, or sale of the property.
Property owners in the PHHD may freely sell or transfer their properties WITHOUT the involvement of the district Commission.
The property owners may demolish properties in the Historic District, but must first go through a review process and obtain a certificate from the PHHD Commission. (Demolition of these properties may also trigger a demolition delay that is independent of the establishment of the PHHD)

3.       The PHHD does not require or compel property owners to make any improvements to or rehabilitate their property at all.
Property owners included in the PHHD are not forced to make any improvements, upgrades or modifications to either the interior or exterior of their properties. The guidelines are only triggered if a property owner wishes to make changes or modifications to the exterior architectural features that may be viewed from a public way, in which case a certificate must be obtained from the PHHD Commission. As listed above, the guidelines may require property owners to use specific materials or design features when modifying the external architectural features of their properties.
There are three different certificates that property owners may obtain from the PHHD Commission that allow them to proceed with external improvements or modifications:
1)      Certificate of Appropriateness: states that the improvements/modifications sought fall within the jurisdiction of the PHHD and that they meet the stated guidelines. The PHHD Commission may in this case impose certain restrictions or limitations to help the proposed alterations meet the guidelines.
2)      Certificate of Nonapplicability: states that the improvements/modifications sought do not trigger the PHHD guidelines
3)      Certificate of Hardship: states that the applicant has demonstrated that the improvements/modifications sought bear some hardship, financial or otherwise, if they were to meet the PHHD guidelines.

4.       This is not about picking ethnic “winners” and “losers.”
The creation of the PHHD was initiated by a petition of Holyoke residents that wish to celebrate and honor the history and legacy of the Polish community that lived in this area years ago. It is the first petition of its kind to come before the City Council and as the economic benefits of such districts have been clearly demonstrated by a wealth of literature, I would happily support the creation of other similar districts that call attention to our city’s rich cultural history and ethnic diversity.

5.       The PHHD is a tool for neighborhood preservation and economic revitalization.
The City of Holyoke has been making great strides in advancing downtown economic development and investment. The creation of the PHHD, in setting out architectural guidelines and design standards, is simply another tool that assists in the neighborhood preservation and economic revitalization of our urban core.

Councilors in support of the PHHD: Alexander, Bartley, Lebron-Martinez, Lisi, Soto, Vacon, Valentin
Councilors in opposition to the PHHD: Chateauneuf, Tallman
Councilors who have not expressed a firm position on the district:
Bresnahan: 230-9351
Greaney: 534-5749
Jourdain: 538-5519
Leahy: 535-3353
McGee: 534-1764
McGiverin: 536-6557