This spring could be a bonanza for painters, carpenters and roofers in Elmwood Village.
Homeowners in part of the West Side neighborhood may be eligible for a 20 percent state tax credit, with some commercial operators qualifying for 40 percent in state and federal tax credits to improve their properties. That’s because more than 1,600 buildings in an area roughly bounded by Summer Street to the south, Richmond Avenue to the west, Elmwood Avenue to the east and Forest Avenue to the north appear on their way to being designated a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. Nonprofit organizations, including churches, also would be eligible. Proponents say the designation is a proven way to boost property values, improve the appearance of a neighborhood by preserving and bolstering its historic character, and at the same time put people to work.
“This is an unprecedented government program to help people take care of their historic houses,” said Clinton E. Brown, whose Clinton Brown Architecture Co. produced a massive survey of the district for the nomination process. “The listing will bring national recognition to a very special place in our midst. It will enhance community pride and property values, and put neighborhood handymen to work.”
“It is going to be one of the largest historic districts in the state,” said Thomas J. Yots, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Preservation, the nomination’s sponsor. But the designation also has drawn criticism, which cropped up at two public hearings last month, out of concern that it will lead to more government intrusion.
“I’m just not for much regulation in my life,” said Michael Bowen, who owns Pasteurized Tees. “They say you will get tax credits, but I know to make the criteria it is going to wind up costing you probably twice the cost.” Bowen said his biggest concern is that it will lead to a local designation like Allentown has, which is not being sought.
The nomination is expected to be voted on Sept. 20 by the State Board for Historic Preservation. A positive recommendation will put it onto the State Register and send the nomination to the National Park Service for final review and almost certain listing on the National Register, a process expected to take three to six months. An area in the district more than twice the size, including east to Delaware Avenue, could be considered at a future time.
Proponents note that people would still be able to do what they want to their home or business as long as they didn’t seek tax credits or public funds. John T. Kolaga, president of the Elmwood Village Association, said the organization “recognizes it’s an overwhelmingly good thing for the residents, we think. We understand that there is very strong support for good reason.” But Kolaga said that there were also potential risks for commercial tenants and landowners associated with being in a historic district. “Essentially their projects, under certain circumstances, could be held to a higher level of environmental scrutiny, particularly those that are controversial,” Kolaga said. “You could be forced to do a more substantial environmental review in the areas where you are going to be attracting additional traffic, or noise, or substantial change of use to the property.”
Buildings targeted for demolition in a historic district are also entitled to review by the Buffalo Preservation Board as an added layer of scrutiny.
A 7 p.m. meeting next Tuesday in Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church will allow business owners to raise concerns. Mark L. Peckham, director of the state Bureau of Community Preservation Services, will answer questions.
To be eligible for a historic tax credit, an owner will need to make under $60,000 as determined by their census tract income, spend a minimum of $5,000, apply at least 5 percent of the project’s cost toward improving the building’s exterior and follow guidelines set by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. A homeowner would be eligible for up to $50,000 in state income tax credits.
Landlords in the district’s many multifamily dwellings may particularly benefit, Brown said. They would be eligible for a 20 percent credit for the unit they live in, and a 20 percent state and 20 percent federal tax credit for rental units being rehabilitated.
“It’s an economic-development project. It’s giving homeowners and business owners a 20 percent state tax credit – basically cash money – back from the state for doing work that has to be done by somebody,” said Kenneth A. Rogers, a Lafayette Avenue resident, one of more than 20 homeowners already approved by the state to work on their houses pending the nomination’s passage.
The state and federal historic tax credit programs are to expire Dec. 31, 2014, but proponents are hopeful that they will be extended.
This article by Mark Sommers originally appeared in The Buffalo News on September 12, 2012. Link ⇒