Editorial: Riverhead’s historic designation a misunderstood milestone

National Parks Service historian Edson Beall said it simply: Owners of income-producing buildings in the downtown area just added to the National Register of Historic Places “are free to do as they please.”

“That includes tearing down the building,” he told the News-Review, in an attempt to dispel misconceptions about the federal designation.

Downtown business people and property owners are free to do what they will, he said — unless, of course, they are receiving generous state and federal tax credits to help fund historically appropriate rehab work and renovations in the district.

The historic designation carries no restrictions for people not using tax credits.

Sadly, misunderstandings concerning the designation abound, with the knee-jerk reaction being that another layer of government will soon be sticking its nose in more of the moving parts of our daily lives. These assumptions are wrong and have taken away from this notable achievement.

With the designation, 46 properties, each at least 50 years old, now qualify for tax credits ­— and more will qualify as the years go on.
The state and federal credits — which are full refunds (read: cash) from the government, not just deductions — can amount to up to 40 percent of the value of exterior improvements. That’s a huge chunk of what could amount to pricey rehab projects — projects that might never get done without the financial incentives.

What a potential boon for downtown. What a group of volunteers to get it done.

So celebrate, Riverhead. As Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, said in an interview this week. “You’re on the map!”

This milestone was accomplished thanks to the drive and knowledge of the town’s volunteer Landmarks Preservation Commission members — “and without any taxpayer dollars,” said Ms. Giglio, Town Board liaison to the commission.

Led by Richard Wines of Jamesport, commission members spent countless hours over more than three years lobbying government officials for support for the designation application, then poring over and compiling pages of information — some of it hard to find — and giving updates and presentations to the board and public, all while meeting strict deadlines.

This all for no reason other than that these volunteers recognized the huge benefits inclusion on the National Register could offer.

The commission is now pushing to get Second Street, just one block north of Main, and its intersecting streets onto the register. Everyone should support this effort.

For over two centuries, downtown Riverhead has been “an important center of business, culture, entertainment and government” on Long Island’s East End, Mr. Beall said.

Federal recognition will only help ensure that this status is preserved and that Riverhead flourishes for centuries to come.