As Southold Town uses its Community Preservation Fund to buy land and development rights for open space, some people are asking why that money can’t also be spent on a $1,000 annual bonus for those who own historic houses.
Saying the historic properties are often in need of repair, members of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission urged the Town Board on Tuesday to pay for the “incentives,” which they believe will encourage more people to register their old homes.
Historic Preservation Commission member Jim Grathwohl said legislation that created the CPF fund already allows for the money to be spent on historic properties.
“It’s in the legislation and we should get a share of it,” he said.
“Why does CPF allow for historic purchases if you’re not going to use it?” added Anne Surchin, another member of the commission.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he opposed that idea after the commission said it would cost nearly $300,000 a year. Mr. Russell said the CPF fund is already stretched too thin to support such an incentive.
“The CPF program isn’t flush [with money]. It’s not robust,” he said, adding that the town is “phasing in purchases over three or four years waiting for the money to come in.”
Councilwoman Jill Doherty said the Town Board is dealing with tight finances and won’t be able to afford to dish out nearly an eighth of the CPF fund each year for a $1,000 historic homeowners incentive.
“We look at every penny and every penny increase we cringe at,” she said.
Commission chairman Jamie Garretson described the money as a “token” for homeowners, adding that the amount won’t cover the costs of upkeep but would help support them. There are 272 properties currently listed as town landmarks, he said, but potentially hundreds more haven’t been registered.
“When I go to somebody and say, ‘You should landmark your house,’ they say ‘Why?’ ” commission member Robert Harper told the Town Board.
Mr. Harper said historic homes are as important to the community’s character as open space, adding that altruism isn’t motivating enough people to buy and register such houses.
“You’ll see all up and down Main Road these types of houses falling into disrepair,” he said.
Mr. Russell said that narrative runs contrary to what the commission has been claiming for years: that registering a home or buying in a historic district leads to higher property values.
“You’re undermining the sales pitch we’ve [the town] been trying to make for more than a decade,” he said.
Mr. Russell also said land purchases made through the CPF aren’t the same as a yearly grant, calling the comparison a “terrible analogy” since the land purchases are a one-time real estate transaction.
Instead, he suggested the commission speak with local school boards to see if tax breaks could be made available, or provide certificates to homeowners that fix their homes as a reward to further increase property values.
Mr. Russell also suggested finding a “funding mechanism” for the commission’s proposed $1,000 grant besides the CPF fund.
“CPF was a creative solution, so maybe there’s another solution out there,” he said.
Mr. Garretson said the commission will look at existing programs as a framework and come back to the Town Board with another presentation once it has updated its proposal.
Photo: Southold Town Historic Preservation Commission chairman Jamie Garretson (right) addressing the Town Board on Tuesday. (Credit: Paul Squire)