The mood was pleasant when a meeting commenced Thursday evening at Jamesport Meeting House to discuss a proposal to create a National Register Historic District on six miles of Main Road stretching from Aquebogue to Laurel.
Residents at the meeting, which included several Riverhead and Southold Town politicians, listened from the building’s historic pews as Richard Wines, chair of Riverhead’s landmarks preservation committee, presented a short slideshow featuring photos of well-known historic properties, like Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue. He explained that being listed with the National Register provides certain economic incentives, namely a 20 percent tax credit to homeowners doing restoration work on their properties.
Kathleen LaFrank and Jennifer Betsworth of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation gave an overview of the Register, which was founded in 1966 and is the official list of historic properties that have been recognized as significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering or culture.
After the presentations were given, the floor was opened for questions.
And that’s when Gian Mangieri of Laurel stood up.
Mr. Mangieri, owner of Laurel Creek Landscape Nursery in Laurel, told the crowd he didn’t have any problem with the law itself. But the small business owner expressed anger at the prospect of further government regulations on his property.
He said he believes creating a historic district could pave the way for new legislation at the local level restricting residents’ abilities to do work on their properties.
Homeowners, he fears, could end up having to go before organizations like the landmarks preservation committee to get approval before any construction begins.
“This is he carrot, but the stick is coming,” he said. “I think it’s very important to ask questions not only about this law but the consequences that follow,” he said. “I feel restricted enough in what I can do with my property that I don’t need more restrictions on top of that.”
Mr. Wines said the only way such a restriction could be placed on property owners is if members of the Riverhead or Southold Town Boards voted for it.
Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that “just being on the national district does not give you any restrictions.”
Ms. Giglio and Ms. LaFrank both pointed out that once something becomes part of the National Register, property owners still have the right to bulldoze their houses or paint them bright purple, should they so choose.
According to a National Register handout presented at the meeting, “When private or local funds are used, and a project does not require state of federal permits or SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act), listing on the National Register does not in any way interfere with a property owner’s right to remodel, alter, manage, sell or even demolish a property.”
However, it states, “If state or federal funding is used or a project requires a state or federal permit, project developers are required to consult with SHPO staff regarding the plans.”
Some residents said they hadn’t received letters notifying them of Thursday’s meeting. Ms. LaFrank, who said addresses were obtained from tax bills and that some information may be outdated, promised to correct the situation.
Some residents, like Diane Schwartz of Jamesport, was in favor of creating a National Register Historic District.
“I don’t understand the opposition,” she told Mr. Mangieri. “If you live on Main Road and are proud of your house and your property, why would you not want to be able to take advantage of that [tax] credit and make your home better?”
When it comes down to it, Ms. Betsworth said, the National Register Historic District will only come to fruition if that’s what property owners want.
“We are here to serve you,” Ms. Betsworth said. “And if serving you means not having a National Register, that’s fine.”
Mr. Wines said the reason for Thursday’s meeting was to gain feedback from the community.
“In a public meeting like this, sometimes it comes down to who yells the loudest,” he said. “If you do oppose it — if you don’t want your neighbors or yourself to get these benefits — send in those objection letters. And if we sense there’s a strong opposition, we won’t want to do it.”