A historic designation would offer property owners certain benefits, principally potential grants and tax credits. Project leaders hope to have an application to the state finalized by September, marking the first step toward federal recognition.
“Our goal in setting up the historic district is to make buildings — historic buildings — eligible for both federal and state grants,” said Richard Wines, chair of Riverhead’s landmarks preservation committee. Mr. Wines met with the Riverhead Town Board last Thursday, and is expected to do the same in Southold Tuesday, to discuss the application before upcoming public meetings on the issue.
“Certainly there are some buildings along Main Road that could use those tax credits,” he said. “There are some houses in bad shape. Some barns could be converted. A lot of things could happen.”
The National Register of Historic Places was created in 1966 and now includes over 85,000 individual places. Also making the list are 13,500 historic districts and 9,500 vacant lots.
The purpose of the program, run by the National Park Service, is to “coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources.”
For structures that qualify within a historic district, 20 to 25 percent of the cost of rehabilitation could be covered by tax credits.
The designation itself also confers value, noted Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.
“It’s more prestigious. The homes will be more valuable in a historic district than they are just being a home on a main road,” she said.
The Main Road Historic District would not be the first historic corridor in Riverhead or Southold, however.
Just under two years ago, the Riverhead Main Street Historic District was added to the list. Mr. Wines said last week that one project under construction on East Main Street — renovation of the former Woolworth building into a gym, apartments and a bagel shop — received tax credits as a result of its historic designation.
In Southold, historic districts exist in Orient, Greenport and Southold hamlet.
Mr. Wines and Save Main Road director Cliff Baldwin of Aquebogue, as well as several other volunteers, took over 1,000 photos and wrote 200 pages in putting the application together — a process Mr. Wines estimated might normally cost a town $30,000 to $40,000.
Mr. Baldwin, a Main Road resident who recently joined Riverhead’s landmarks preservation committee, said in the 20 years he’s lived there, he’s seen five farmhouses from the mid-1800s demolished — an unfortunate loss of the area’s history.
“People come to the area and like to see these things,” he said. “It’s sort of intangible, but if we blow this all away, what do we have left?”
The historic designation, which would be available to qualified homes in the district, would entail restrictions only if property owners wish to take advantage of the tax credit program, which they are not required to do.
Property owners in the proposed historic district have already received information from the state about the application. If a majority of them opposes the designation, the application won’t move forward.
While little opposition is anticipated, crossing town lines with the proposal — an idea advised by New York State Historic Preservation Office — hasn’t been quite as easy as he had expected, Mr. Wines said.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell is concerned that town residents could technically be getting something they don’t want.
“When you look at a little over 350 parcels, I don’t want the voices of the 42 we represent to be drowned out,” he said.
Two public meetings are scheduled to gauge the level of interest among property owners and provide information, one at the Jamesport Meeting House on Aug. 14 and the other in Laurel at a date to be determined.
Should the corridor join the National Historic Register, it would be the 11th location in Riverhead to do so and the 25th in Southold.