Holyoke council will consider extending demo delay for historic buildings

  • Holyoke City Hall as seen from Holyoke Heritage State Park. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Holyoke City Hall, as seen from Holyoke Heritage State Park, on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2022 4:19:10 PM
Modified: 8/1/2022 4:19:00 PM

HOLYOKE — The City Council is set to discuss at its Tuesday night meeting whether to extend the amount of time that the Holyoke Historical Commission can delay the demolition of a property it is hoping to preserve.

The Historical Commission, which is tasked with preserving and helping develop the city’s archeological assets, has proposed ordinance changes that would allow the commission to delay the demolition of a property by as many as 12 months. Currently, the commission can only delay them by six months.

The proposed changes would also lower the age of properties eligible for delay from 100 years to 75 years and would change the name of the ordinance from “demolition delay ordinance” to the “preservation of historic buildings ordinance.”

Speaking before the City Council’s Ordinance Committee on June 28, Paola Ferrario, who chairs the Historical Commission, explained that two bodies work to protect historic buildings in Holyoke: the Holyoke Local Historic District Commission and the Historical Commission. The Local Historic District Commission can proactively create historic districts to preserve monuments, important buildings and neighborhoods. The Historical Commission, meanwhile, has the ability to impose a demolition delay to avoid “unnecessary and wasteful demolition,” she said.

“Presently we have a six-month delay, which is almost useless as a tool for preservation because it does not allow enough time for the Historic District Commission to form a local historic district for a building, block or street,” Ferrario explained.

The proposed changes drew support from some city councilors at that Ordinance Committee meeting, including At-large Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez, who said the city needs such safeguards to allow for the preservation of historical buildings.

Others, however, questioned whether the changes would create unnecessary headaches for private property owners.

At-large Councilor Joseph McGiverin said extending the demolition delay would be unfairly dictating what an owner can do with their property. He also came out against lowering the age of buildings that are subject to Historical Commission review, saying it would create hurdles for properties that could be developed in west Holyoke, for example.

In a letter to the City Council, Mayor Joshua Garcia also expressed his opposition to the changes. He said city departments regularly work with property owners and prospective developers to preserve structures “of historic or aesthetic significance.”

“But I believe the proposed amendment would impose an unreasonable burden on developers who need to move forward with projects in the city,” Garcia wrote in the April 29 letter. “A twelve-month delay strikes me as extreme and is, on its face, an extra layer of bureaucracy.”

Ultimately, At-large Councilor Kevin Jourdain successfully moved to amend the proposed changes, extending the allowable demolition delay from six months to nine months but putting a firm, three-month cap on the amount of time the Historical Commission could keep a hearing open. Jourdain’s changes also would keep the current 100-year age restriction in place.

Jourdain noted that under those changes, the Historical Commission has 45 days to open a public hearing, three months to conduct the hearing, 14 days to make a decision and then a possible nine months to delay demolition.

Those changes will now head to the full City Council on Tuesday after they passed by a vote of 3-2.

City councilors also discussed how to ensure that a member of the Historical Commission is on the city’s Property Preservation Group, which works to deal with problem properties as they pop up across Holyoke.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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