Saratoga County

Residents make move to save city’s historic homes

Like many residents living in converted carriage houses off North Broadway, Jim and Cheryl Gold take
Jim and Cheryl Gold, left, meet informally outside their Woodlawn Ave. home with Wayne and Trudi Smith on Wednesday. All are involved with preserving the historic status of the neighborhood.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Jim and Cheryl Gold, left, meet informally outside their Woodlawn Ave. home with Wayne and Trudi Smith on Wednesday. All are involved with preserving the historic status of the neighborhood.

Like many residents living in converted carriage houses off North Broadway, Jim and Cheryl Gold take great pride in their 1897 home.

They want to make sure it and the other historic houses in their neighborhood are protected from demolition or out-of-character additions.

“It is a quality-of-life issue for us, living in this community and in this neighborhood,” Jim Gold said. “To us there’s added value to living in a historic community and in a historic building.”

The Golds live in a loophole of historic preservation — an area that the National Register of Historic Places has deemed a historic district but the city has not included in its historic zoning district.

Because the National Register doesn’t restrict private properties, owners could tear down their houses or change them significantly without obtaining historic review from the city.

A demolition moratorium the city passed earlier this month puts demolitions in National Register historic districts on hold until February.

It garnered tremendous public support in the wake of Ron and Michele Riggis’ plan to demolish an 1858 home they bought quietly a couple of months ago at 23 Greenfield Ave.

Preservation advocates hope to expand the city historic zoning district to include more of the properties in the National Register historic districts. The Golds will be approaching their neighbors this summer to get signatures for a petition to present to the city later this year.

The two-story Italianate home adjacent to the Riggis’ property on North Broadway is, like the Golds’ house and at least 30 other homes in the neighborhood, in the historic loophole along Woodlawn, Clement and Greenfield avenues. Several people who live near the two-story brick house have posted “Save 23 Greenfield Ave.” signs in their front yards to voice their opposition to the demolition. At recent City Council meetings, people who have been inside 23 Greenfield Ave. or lived there told the council about the beauty of the home.

The demolition is on hold because of the moratorium, but the Riggis’ attorney, John Carusone, said his clients plan to sue the city.

personal investment

For the Golds and many of their neighbors, historic preservation is personal.

The couple restored their house at 199 Woodlawn Ave. from a former carriage house that was being used for business storage into a home after they bought it in the 1980s.

“It was an overgrown lot, and the buildings had never been converted into a residence,” said Jim Gold. “We were able to insert our own floor plan within the interior of the structure and restore the exterior.”

Although Gold can see 23 Greenfield from his property and sports one of the signs against its demolition on his own front lawn, that property isn’t the only reason he and his wife are taking up the cause to expand the city’s historic zoning district.

“It was in the back of a lot of our minds, and it was something that we recognized as something we wanted to do,” Gold said.

City officials are hearing that sentiment a lot more now.

“Certainly recently, we’ve heard a lot of concern for the need for preservation of these buildings,” said Bradley Birge, director of community development for the city.

The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation plans to give technical help to the Golds’ effort, said executive director Samantha Bosshart. Cheryl Gold is a board member on the preservation foundation.

“It’s always been the philosophy of the foundation that the local districts should match the national and state districts,” Bosshart said.

Jim Gold said his group plans to prepare a brochure listing the pros and cons of being included in the local historic district.

“We see this as advantageous to all of the property owners,” he said. Homes in the local historic district hold their property values better.

“It ensures that adjacent property owners can’t do things that are harmful to the neighborhood . . . without it going through some form of local review,” he said.

The downside is the review process is time-consuming and could be more expensive.

Gold noted that most of the homes in his neighborhood have already been restored.

“We are hoping that [property owners] will see this as something positive and not something that in any way is going to prevent them from renovating a building, since it’s already in excellent condition.”

Although Gold said several of his neighbors in the Woodlawn area have been receptive to the petition process, there seems to be less support for expanding the local historic zoning district on the West Side.

Hundreds of homes in the West Side Historic District listed on the National Register are not in the city historic zoning district and also fall into the loophole.

When the West Side national district was formed in 1994, property owners did not want to be part of a local historic district, Bosshart said. She hasn’t heard of a change of heart from that section of the city yet, which includes Van Dam and Church streets and parts of Lawrence, Waterbury, Walton and Van Dorn streets.

Preservationists worry the city is seeing the start of a demolition trend, as property owners buy small homes and rip them down to build bigger, new houses.

“This could be the early times of a tear-down trend,” Bosshart said.

Bosshart said there are rumors that more property owners want to demolish historic homes that have been neglected.

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