Village aims for clearer design guidelines

Village officials say they hope developing design guidelines will help owners of the 340 structures
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Village officials say they hope developing design guidelines will help owners of the 340 structures in the historic district gain approval when they want to alter building exteriors.

An $8,400 grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will pay a consultant to write the guidelines and post them online, said Nelli Mooney, manager of the village Codes Environment and Planning Department.

The district, established in 1987, includes much of the core village, from the fairgrounds up South and North Grand streets to Maple Road, to Elm and Rose streets on the west, and North Street on the east.

The zone includes the downtown Main Street business area and includes a mixture of architectural styles. Five of the oldest buildings were built before 1841, according to a 2003 district survey. Most structures date to between 1861 and 1930.

Any visible exterior changes generally need approval by five-member Historic District Review Commission.

Clearer guidelines are expected to make it easier to decide what’s appropriate.

“It would give people an idea of different types of projects,” said commission Chairwoman Sandy Poole.

The grant will pay consultant Jill Fisher, of Larson Fisher Associates Inc. in Woodstock.

Fisher is familiar with the district, having done the 2003 survey. She’ll be guiding a walking tour of part of the district from 2 to 4 p.m. on May 18. Houses won’t be open during the tour, but Fisher will point out significant architectural features, Mooney said.

The tour, beginning at the Fairuz Cafe, 236 N. Grand St., will focus on the county fairgrounds and the South Grand Street area.

What’s now called the Schoharie County Sunshine Fairgrounds appears on an 1866 map as the Cobleskill Park Course. It began as an oval race track that gradually became surrounded by wood buildings painted uniformly red with white trim, according to Fisher’s 2003 survey.

The entrance gate houses date to about 1895, and the grandstand goes back to about 1876.

A variety of livestock sheds and other buildings were built on the site during the past approximately 150 years.

Many houses, including several large structures on Elm Street add to the mix of historic architecture in the district.

Styles include Greek revival, such as a house at 117 Park Place, others include an elaborate circa-1880 Queen Anne style house at 425 W. Main St.

The Queen Anne style was “extremely popular in the village’s late 19th century boom period, with 52 buildings in this category,” according to Fisher’s survey.

Commission approval is needed for exterior changes for all buildings anywhere in the village district no matter what their age.

The emphasis is on buildings constructed during the “period of significance,” before 1950, according to district documents.

Without clearer guidelines, some critics say the approval process creates an additional burden.

Charalambos “Harry” Ioannou, whose corporation owns the circa 1886 Newberry Square building at 584 Main St., this week called the rules “historic mumbo-jumbo” that he contends are driving some developers away.

The Newberry block is considered the village’s “most elaborate commercial building,” according to the survey. “[It] conveys a strong sense of the Romanesque [style] with its arcaded brick facade.”

Ioannou faces village court action May 12 after he was cited by Code Enforcement Officer Michael Piccolo on March 3 for failing to repair three large storefront windows on the mostly vacant building that were discovered broken March 1.

Village officials and the community and business group Cobleskill Partnership Inc. have been working for years to revitalize the downtown area.

Many see the historic district as a tool in keeping the community attractive.

Developing clear guidelines should help that process, according to Mooney and Poole.

Besides the planned historic district guidelines, Piccolo said he and mapping assistant Brian Jones are compiling information and photographs of all the approximately 500 commercial buildings in the village.

They’ve already documented the dozen or so vacant commercial buildings “to help draw new business,” Piccolo said.

To enlist cooperation from owners, Cobleskill Partnership member John Sagendorf invited Piccolo to discuss the plan with CPI’s business development committee 8 a.m. Monday at the Colonial Diner on West Main Street.

Categories: Schenectady County

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