On Wednesday, December 6th, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Historic East Side Neighborhood Initiative hosted a community meeting at the Adam Mickiewicz Library & Dramatic Circle on Fillmore Avenue. The purpose of the meeting was to get input from residents, business owners and other neighborhood stakeholders on the proposed historic district for part of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.
Broadway Fillmore Alive (BFA) couldn’t attend the meeting. We reached out to Chrissy Lincoln of Fillmore Forward and Beverly McLean from the Friends of the Broadway Market District and neighborhood resident to give us their perspective on the meeting and some thoughts on the potential creation of a historic district.
Here is what I asked them with their responses:
BFA: How do you think making part of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood a historic district will impact the area?
Christina Lincoln: The hope is that by making Broadway Fillmore a certified local district, it will curb the number of demolitions in the area and help to retain its urban character and the density that remains. The community has already lost so much but there is still great architecture here. I absolutely love the housing stock in the neighborhood, and another goal with the certified local district, is that it will raise the rehab standards for absentee landlords, while giving owner occupants the ability to apply for a 20% historic tax credit to care for their properties. This can be used in conjunction with other housing programs offered by the Matt Urban Center and NHS. It has been shown that historic districts stabilize housing values, and some residents at the meeting expressed their desire to see the neighborhood designated to assist with that.
Beverly McLean: A historic designation has the potential to bring positive recognition to Broadway-Fillmore. The neighborhood often is not recognized for its uniqueness. Preservation Studio pointed out the area is home to some the most significant religious and social architecture in the region such as Corpus Christi Church, Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, and Dom Polksi. An overlooked asset is the neighborhood’s vernacular workers cottages not found in other Rustbelt cities (Cleveland and Pittsburgh).
A certified local historic designation along with National Park Service recognition would help protect the neighborhood’s historic legacy. Since I have moved into the neighborhood seven years ago, demolitions are a frequent occurrence due to arson, neglect and abandonment. Some demolitions have been warranted, others have been questionable. A stricter review of the save or demo process has the potential to protect the integrity of neighborhood fabric.
An advantage of a historic district designation is another development tool for developers and local agencies. Forty percent tax credits would be available for commercial projects and twenty percent for residential properties (this varies by income). This could provide agencies an additional tool for promoting development in the neighborhood and potentially spur more rehab that could potential stabilize neighborhood housing values.
From my involvement with Broadway Market, I view this is the opportunity to bring back the Broadway Market commercial district.
BFA: What are your biggest takeaways from the community meeting?
Christina Lincoln: Although it seemed that most at the meeting were in support of the district and taking advantage of the tax credits, there were a couple of concerns. The Broadway Fillmore neighborhood is one of the most impoverished in Buffalo and there were worries that a historic district would put housing repair costs out of reach for most residents. Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Historic East Side Neighborhood Initiative are working on a case study with concerned local residents to weigh what those costs might actually look like.
Another concern was gentrification. While diversity is a good thing, displacement should be avoided. There is no direct correlation between historic districts and gentrification, but it is a legitimate fear for those that aren’t upwardly mobile. Historic commercial buildings traditionally offer smaller spaces and more affordable rents and no one argued that Broadway couldn’t benefit from an increase in local businesses. There are measures outside of preservation that could address those concerns, if the district were to be approved.
Beverly McLean: More works need to be done to move forward a historic designation. Some participants at the public meeting brought up the issue of economic hardship. The neighborhood is economically distressed with limited resources available to undertake major rehabilitation projects. Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services and Lt. Matt Urban Center representatives, however, mentioned they are considering how their home repair programs could help low-income homeowners.
A historic district designation applies just to exterior repairs. A requirement to get tax breaks is at least five percent of the project focus on the exterior. This involves windows, siding, roof material, and porches. The requirement is historic repair must be done with kind material. However, if someone’s current house has vinyl windows, one can replace with vinyl windows. The issue is if the windows are wood framed. But if replacing wood framed windows with kind material will be an undue hardship, this potentially can be waived–but depends on the particular project and circumstances of the homeowner or developer.
To address concerns, it was recommended to reach out to the Hamlin Park Taxpayers Association to see how their historic designation impacts their neighborhood. What advantages and disadvantages did the designation bring to homeowners or developers.
A second issue raised was presenting an example of cost for rehabbing prototype properties under the historic designation guidelines versus without the historic designation guidelines.
A future meeting is planned for January to address these issues. Without consensus of property owners within the designated area, a recommendation for a historic designation is not feasible.
BFA: Anything else you would like to share?
Christina Lincoln: I think it’s important to note that the neighborhood has a voice. Talk to your Councilman, call Preservation Buffalo Niagara if you have questions. Hamlin Park is the only other east side preservation district and it has helped strengthen their community, stabilize housing values, and retain a neighborhood that’s important to our city. Local designation is the only way to prevent needless demolitions, and being certified would give residents access to those tax credits. But we must balance these benefits with the concerns of those that live here, and by working together we’ll set an initiative that works for everyone.
Beverly McLean: As a person who rehabbed a historic property without any tax breaks or public assistance, I welcome the idea of more tools available to save the unique fabric of the neighborhood. I undertook my project because I really loved the house. I still have a lot of work to do. And, I would love to see others who like a unique structure in the neighborhood have tools available to make it possible.
Thank you, Beverly and Christina for taking the time to offer your point of view.
As this initiative moves forward and develops, BFA will try to provide as much information as possible. If done right, this could really be something huge for the neighborhood. Broadway-Fillmore has lost many building over the last few decades, it’s important to preserve the heritage, legacy and architecturally significant for the future.