As the most populated town in Saratoga County, when many think of Clifton Park, images of strip malls and congested highways come to mind. However, in this town of 47 square miles, there still remain the vestiges of a deep and rich history. The Clifton Park Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing on June 12 to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed changes to Article XIII of Local Law No. 10 of the Town Zoning Code.
This was the second public hearing on the proposed amendments. The first public hearing was held on April 18.
The historic preservation commission is an advisory board and has no powers on its own, but makes recommendations that can be acted upon by the town planning board and town board. The commission was formed in 1992, and the town preservation code was adopted in 1996. At the time, 24 houses in the town were selected to be on the Historic Register.
The town of Clifton Park’s historian John Scherer provided an overview of the proposed amendments.
Under the existing code, houses were designated on the Register subject to approval of any changes to building exteriors, Scherer said. `But through a miscommunication between the preservation commission and the town board, the town board made it a voluntary choice to be placed on the Historic Register. Predictably, few wanted to remain on the Register, because they would be subject to exterior restrictions. As a result, the Register was made an honorary designation, in order to acknowledge the importance of historic structures in the town. Today, there are now no restrictions on being designated part of the historic register. However, the town code still reflects the original exterior restrictions on houses designated on the Register.`
To remedy this inconsistency, the proposed amendments are designed to reflect what has been in effect for the last 10 years, that there are no restrictions on houses designated on the Historic Register. The commission had also adopted farm conservation tax easements and applied them to historic preservation. The result was that while the desig-nations were honorary, in order to apply and receive the ease-ments, the homeowner had to comply with the code regarding exterior restrictions.
By applying for the tax easement, homeowners can save up to half on the assessed value of their houses.
`Again, this is voluntary,` Scherer stressed.
The proposed legislation also allows for the creation of historic districts of which there are currently none in Clifton Park.
During the public comment period, Liz Thackeray of 280 Sugar Hill Road, read a prepared statement.
`My concern is that the changes proposed seem to be reducing some of my rights that I have accorded under federal and state law,` she said. `Under Article 13, it states that if my house is considered for historic status, that I will be notified and will have an opportunity to answer that. And while I understand that this is not subject to state and federal oversight, when the law affects my rights as a property owner, because of changes in the local law, then I have a concern.`
Paul Kitchen of 277 Sugar Hill Road noted that some of the wording under the new law is contradictory, and needs clarifi-cation to avoid future problems. While Kitchen said he was not opposed to historic preservation and was grateful to the board for hearing his concerns, he pointed out some inconsistencies in the language as it is stated.
Regarding the proposed establishment of historic districts, Kitchen said, `The guts of the language regarding the criteria in determining an historic district has been taken out at the same time that the amended language calls for the establishment of historic districts.`
Kitchen requested that the language be reinstated. Scherer noted that the language dropped out of the previous draft and concurred that it needed to be put back in. Kitchen also said that the use of the certificate of compatibility was no longer appropriate under the amended law. Scherer noted that it needed to stay in to accommodate the tax easement process. Kitchen responded that the easement provision is covered under the certificate of appropriateness, which is remaining in the law. Scherer concurred. Finally, Kitchen pointed out that the National Historic Preservation Act allows people to be excluded from a National Historic District, and questioned why the town’s proposed legislation doesn’t allow for this.
In related news, the National Historic Preservation Commision bestowed two awards at the meeting. Each year during National Historic Preservation month, the Commission selects two properties that best represent the stewardship and preservation of the history of the Town of Clifton Park. The Connors family received an award for their efforts in maintaining the compatibility of the Greek revival architecture style, prominent in the hamlet of Vischer Ferry.
`It is a perfect example of how modern construction can be combined with the existing community designs,` said Kazmierczak. The second award went to the town of Clifton Park for its continued support of historic preservation as evidenced by the work on the Grooms Tavern and purchase of the `Grange.“