The Rye community can be justly proud of its historic preservation record, including the recent law passed by the City Council, designating portions of downtown Rye as a historic district.
By Paul Hicks
The Rye community can be justly proud of its historic preservation record, including the recent law passed by the City Council, designating portions of downtown Rye as a historic district. The new law also allows owners of property in the district to apply for special real property tax benefits.
Rye was one of the earliest municipalities in New York State to adopt a historic preservation law (White Plains just passed such a law in May 2015). Provisions for Landmarks Preservation were originally added to the Rye City Code in 1977 for a number of stated purposes, most importantly:
• To provide for the protection, enhancement, perpetuation, and use of those districts, sites, and structures which are illustrative of the growth and development of the City of Rye and which are of particular historic or aesthetic value to the City.
• To recognize and ensure the preservation of those elements of the City’s past which represent many and varied architectural, artistic, and cultural achievements which cannot be duplicated or otherwise replaced.
• To provide an educative role in the community with regard to historic structures and landmarks preservation.
The Landmarks Advisory Committee is authorized by the Code to recommend districts, sites and structures to the City Council for landmark designation and protection. Except for sites and structures that are already listed on the National Register, the Code provides that, “No other site or structure shall be designated unless the owner thereof files a written consent, nor shall any property be included within a Preservation District unless the owner thereof files a written consent…”
Details about each of the local designated landmarks (historic districts, sites, and structures) can be found in Chapter 117 of the Code, which is available online at www.ryeny.gov. When you compare the list of Rye landmarks with the Rye listings on the National Register of Historic Places, you will note that there are some inconsistencies. For example, the local list includes the “Hains-Robinson House” at 556 Milton Road and the “Stillman Residence” at 235 Boston Post Road, which are not on the National Register, while the African-American Cemetery and the Rye Town Park-Bathing Complex and Oakland Beach are included in the national but not the local listings.
Listing a place on the National Register by itself does not limit the private uses of the property. Owners of property eligible to be listed on the Register are sometimes opposed to listing, because they think it automatically regulates what they may do with their property. In fact, private owners of properties on the National Register may alter or demolish their properties without any regulatory restraints, provided they have not accepted federal funds for repair or renovation of the property and there is no limiting local law.
Under the Rye City Code, however, any “material change in appearance” (other than normal maintenance and repair) made within a locally designated district or of a protected site or structure must comply with specified regulations. These rules, however, do not apply to the places in Rye that are listed only on the National Register, including those that are also designated as National Historic Landmarks (see Part I of this article in the July 17 issue).
Because of the confusing rules and misperceptions, members of the Rye community interested in historic preservation would benefit from having printed guidelines, which could also be accessed online through the City’s website. An excellent model, produced by the City of Kingston (New York State’s first capital), can be found by searching “Preservation Guidelines: Kingston, New York.”
In expressing support for the new landmark law at the July 8 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Julie Killian spoke about the merits of creating other historic districts outside of the downtown area. Deputy Mayor Laura Brett noted that the new law would provide a good blueprint for how to define what a historic building is within a proposed district. Those goals can best be accomplished with clear guidelines and a detailed survey of other potential historic districts, sites, and structures within Rye.