As Beacon revises regulations, not everyone so sure
The Beacon City Council will hold a pair of public hearings on Tuesday (Feb. 18) regarding revisions to the city’s historic district law and, separately, 35 properties that are candidates to be added to the district.
The historic district is an overlay, rather than a zoning district, which means it can be applied to buildings throughout the city. About 280 homes and structures are already in the district, which prevents them and neighboring buildings from being altered in a way that the city believes will harm their historic value.
The district also has its own architectural and design standards, a requirement that has agitated some property owners.
Maggie Yarnis lives in an 1860 Victorian home on Beacon’s west side that is in the historic district. She said on Wednesday that her family had been pleased with the designation “until we started learning about it.”
Yarnis said one conversation with her insurance agent led her to believe she’d lose her coverage because the district’s limitations would make the cost of restoring exterior features on her home too expensive. Then she was reassured that her coverage would continue, but possibly at a higher premium.
“I had no idea about this,” Yarnis said. She’s gathering information on Beacon’s regulations, but says if she concludes the district is too restrictive, “we’re leaning toward wanting out.”
The 35 buildings under consideration are either in or close to the Central Main Street zone. Owners of buildings, including homes, can ask to be excluded, but a super-majority vote by the council (five of its seven members, including the mayor) can overrule an objection.
Beacon officials have been working for more than a year to make the designation more appealing. Property owners can currently apply for tax breaks on exterior restoration of a home’s historic features, but they have also been required to get approval from the Planning Board before making significant changes.
The council has asked Dutchess County and the Beacon school board to grant historic property owners tax breaks, as well. Both proposals are being reviewed.
“The No. 1 benefit that we’ve afforded has been the additional uses in the zone,” Mayor Lee Kyriacou said this week, citing the Rose Hill Manor Day School, his neighbor on Route 9D, as an example.
Because Rose Hill is part of the historic district, added zoning uses — commercial, restaurant, bed-and-breakfast or offices — are allowed by special permit in what is otherwise a single-family residential district.
“Clearly that property is far more valuable being in the historic overlay than it would have been in single-family zoning,” Kyriacou said.
A dozen people spoke in September during the council’s first hearing on the 35 possible additions, with about half of them expressing concern. Opponents cited the cost and nuisance of going through the Planning Board, as well as creative limitations on things like paint colors or exterior features.
The council responded with a proposal to eliminate Planning Board fees for property owners who comply with its standards. The revision to its historic district law would also eliminate the need for the Planning Board to approve interior and out-of-sight exterior alterations and, in many cases, repainting and landscaping changes.
Far fewer people attended a public hearing on that proposal on Jan. 21, however. Comments included the suggestion that the city exempt houses of worship from historic restrictions.
On Tuesday, both proposals — the 35 properties being considered and the new law — will be up for comment.
During the City Council’s meeting on Monday (Feb. 10), Kyriacou suggested that existing and prospective historic-district property owners could be more amenable this time around because of the revised law’s benefits and “cost-less process.”