Some City Council members Tuesday night expressed skepticism about a proposed Highland Road historic district, which would be the city’s first.
“The council has to have some discussions on this,” Mayor Reginald Spinello told Timothy O’Rourke, the head of the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission, who outlined the plan during a pre-council work session.
Tuesday was O’Rourke’s second presentation of the idea to council members in the past month. Spinello asked him to return because two council members were absent during the Jan. 19 pre-council meeting.
The landmarks commission is looking into whether to recommend to the council that 73 homes on or just off Highland Road be grouped into a historic district. Most of the homes were built in the late 1890s and early 1900s, many on lots of at least a half acre.
The commission also is mulling over whether to apply for placement of the area on state and national historic district registries, which, if granted, would make homeowners eligible for 20 percent tax credits when they rehabilitate their homes.
City historic-district status would require homeowners to ask the landmarks commission for approval to make major changes to parts of their homes that are visible from the street, to ensure the changes would be in keeping with the historic character of the neighborhood.
That provision is what some council members were concerned about.
“We don’t want to put handcuffs on someone who owns a home and has been there for a while,” Spinello said.
But O’Rourke said homeowners would have leeway in changes they might want to make. Residents could, for example, use less expensive materials that still blend in with the neighborhood, and they would be free to make whatever changes they like in the interior and parts of the exterior not visible from the street, he said. By preserving the historic feel of the neighborhoods, the designation could increase property values, O’Rourke said.