Joining several other towns in Erie County, the Elma Town Board last week created guidelines for preserving older homes and businesses. The vote was taken after a public hearing at the July 17 board meeting.
The board approved the new guidelines as the first step in preserving historic sites and older homes, said Elma Historical Society President Marlene Baumgartner. She said 1,300 communities across the state have such laws.
While some older homes may not have historical value and may not qualify for this program, the law is needed to save those that are in good condition, Baumgartner said. She noted that earlier that day, the second historic home in Elma this year in excellent condition – a caretaker’s cottage near Bullis Road – was demolished on the site of the former Camp Centerland.
In May, a larger home with historic value – it was the summer place Henry Ford visited often – was demolished on the same property.
The demolitions prompted the board to act, at Baumgartner’s urging and with guidance from the state Historic Preservation Office and Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, said owners of commercial property may be eligible for state and federal tax credits of up to 40 percent, and homes can qualify for credits of up to 20 percent. He said help is available if property owners cannot make needed repairs, and pointed out that the town does not have to do anything it doesn’t want to do. With the new law, the town also can be placed in the Certified Local Government Program, which protects and enhances landmarks and historic districts.
The next step is for the board and a yet-to-be-named seven-member commission to decide which homes and businesses will be included, either individually or possibly in a district. Supervisor Dennis Powers said any town resident interested in joining the commission should send a resume to him at Town Hall.
Baumgartner suggested “designating a historic district along Bowen Road, in the area once known as the Elma Village,” which she said is a good mix of historic homes, a church and a museum complex.
At the public hearing, several residents backed the new law. Melanie Miecznikowski, owner of a house built in the 1850s, called it “disgusting” that the town lost a house that’s part of Elma’s history, referring to the Camp Centerland house.
Other residents said the new law takes a lot of the burden off the building inspector when it comes to approving demolition requests because he can now say “go to the historical committee.”