Equal Time: Standing up for the East Marion Community Association

A front-page article in last week’s Suffolk Times described a petition that spreads misinformation and insinuations about the recent listing of the East Marion Main Road Historic District on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and about the East Marion Community Association.

Let me correct the record.

First, it appears that only a handful of the anti-EMCA petitioners cited in the Suffolk Times article own property in the historic district. The others appear to live outside the district, and in many cases, outside East Marion. Second, only a few attended any of the information meetings or engaged in a conversation with EMCA. Instead, after-the-fact, they chose to challenge the integrity of EMCA with accusations and false information. This is unfortunate.

The idea for an historic district originated within the community. Since its founding in 2007, EMCA has sponsored numerous meetings on East Marion history. In a community survey circulated in October 2016 as part of Southold’s comprehensive planning process, 89% of respondents from East Marion ranked historic significance of the community as very important, and 95% ranked historic preservation as critical, very important, or important to East Marion’s future. In February 2017, EMCA created a committee to research the issue, prepare a feasibility study and report the results.

The focus of an historic district is on identifying and honoring significant American architecture that tells the American story. Being listed on the National Register benefits everyone because it provides recognition of our local heritage and assistance in preserving it. This includes a measure of protection from the effects of state or federally projects, such as a road widening, that would threaten our historic architecture as well as our entire community. In addition, it can provide tax credits to help owners maintain their historic properties. The process for applying for a National Historic District is dictated by the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service. Applications in each of the 50 states are processed through the State Historic Preservation Office or SHPO. A representative from New York’s SHPO guided us through the process.

East Marion’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places is honorary and imposes no restrictions on property owners. Owners are free to do whatever they wish with their property. In April 2018, after reviewing the study, the EMCA board voted to pursue the district under the guidance of the SHPO and community outreach began. We scheduled living room visits with about two-thirds of the private property owners in the proposed district. A total of five separate mailings were sent to the legal address of each property owner, and three community meetings were held to inform property owners, answer questions, and hear input into the historic district process. This went far beyond the one mailing and one meeting required by SHPO.

The East Marion Main Road Historic District encompasses about 115 property owners in East Marion. The district runs from Gillette Drive to Dam Pond and takes in five properties on Bay Avenue. We were required to follow federal and state rules in order to establish an historic district. Owners of private properties proposed for listing in the National Register were given the opportunity to concur or object to the listing. Federal and state regulations required a notarized statement from an objecting property owner. Non-responses were counted as a “yes.” It was the property owners who decide whether to establish an historic district. If a majority of property owners oppose the historic district, the project does not go forward. Approximately 80 property owners attended one or more of three information meetings or participated in individual meetings with EMCA members.

Most historic district nominations are prepared by consultants, but EMCA did not have the funds to go that route. All the research and writing was done by volunteers and took about two and a half years to complete. As a result of this project East Marion now has its first-ever documented history and a catalog of its architectural treasures.

An East Marion Main Road Historic District is a win-win for everyone who loves East Marion. We are proud to be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Ms. Bramson chaired the EMCA Historic District Committee. Her family has lived on the same property in East Marion for six generations.

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