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Borough Government Opposes ‘Landmark Zoning’ For Multiple Reasons

Published: September 21, 2017

To the Editor:

I’d like to add details to the recent Newtown Bee Borough Landmark article. The reasons the Borough government opposes the Borough Landmark zoning change presented by Borough Zoning to the acting Planning Commission is multifold: 1) that as presented in writing it puts at risk nearly all residential Main Street houses; 2) it has no specific mandatory process to determine a Landmark structure; 3) unless the Historic District Commission is mandated as the decisionmaker, it will cost Borough taxpayers thousands of dollars in consulting fees and potentially create inconsistent historic preservation efforts.

By their definition, a “Landmark building,” is one that is over 40 years old and is unique. Nearly every house on Main Street qualifies. Once qualified, that house is now zoned for professional offices such as medical offices, law offices, accounting offices, nonprofit businesses, and not-for-profit businesses without the present residency requirement that permits such businesses so long as the owner of the business lives in the house. This risks converting mostly residential Main Street (referred to as “pristine early-American elegance” by the Newtown Times) into a commercial Main Street, no longer unique and elegant. Newtown’s Plan of Conservation and Development calls for the preservation of Main Street as is, not its commercialization. The Landmark proposal could have been limited to only municipal-owned properties.

The Landmark proposal fails to mandate an independent procedure to determine a Landmark structure. It states the Borough Zoning may create an advisory board; however, there is nothing mandatory about it and zoning may override it. Moreover, it envisions the employment of consultants costing thousands of dollars in consulting fees to be borne by Borough taxpayers. The Borough already has a Historic District Commission whose members have more than 20 years of experience and preservation expertise. It is also privy to free expert consultants. Further, the Landmark proposal risks creating inconsistent preservation efforts and inconsistent findings. Imagine a property in the National of Register of Historic Places yet not considered a Landmark, or visa-versa??

A final concern, is it worth it? Everyone wishes to preserve Edmond Town Hall. ETH estimates new business office net revenues of $20,000. However, who would drop their children off for movies, dance, music, etc if they knew a serious criminal law practice frequented the same location? Could such a practice be constitutionally precluded from entering a lease if qualified? Good government whenever possible should avoid picking winners and losers in the private market. What do local commercial property owners think when town government doesn’t have to pay property taxes and then competes against them for professional office space tenants? Borough zoning should secure input on the present proposal from Borough government, the Historic District Commission, Main Street residents, and all Newtowners. This proposal was drafted after the Borough Zoning hearing. At minimum, the Landmark zoning should be limited to municipal buildings and the determination of what’s a Landmark made by the Borough Historic District Commission.

 

Thank you.

Jim Gaston

Warden of the Borough

18 Main Street, Newtown            September 20, 2017

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