Town of Bath Historic Landmarks Commission Set to Disband

The Town of Bath Historic Landmarks Commission is set to disband if the Bath Town Council votes next week, as expected, to not allow the Commission to move forward to establish a local historic district. 

David Abruzzi, the President of the Commission, sees the writing on the wall.

“There is little doubt in my mind the Town Council will vote 4-2 against amending the ordinance to allow for certificates of appropriateness on May 25, and this will deny many of you the right to have a direct vote on whether or not to establish a local historic district,” Abruzzi wrote this morning in an email to local residents and supporters of the historic district. “The Historic Landmarks Commission was your advocate for making this happen and it appears it won’t.”  

“With the Town Council’s vote to deprive affected property owners a direct vote, it is also a vote to end the Commission,” Abruzzi wrote. “The Commission members are in agreement to disband and direct our individual efforts elsewhere. For those here, feel free to reach out to me with any historic preservation type questions and I will attempt to answer on a personal level, but official assistance from the Commission will cease.”

The decision to disband the Commission comes on the heels of a community meeting last night at the Ice House in Berkeley Springs that drew more than 50 local residents, including State Senator Charles Trump, members of the Bath Town Council and members of the Morgan County Commission.

Twenty-six residents spoke – with more than 20 of those 26 speaking out against the draft proposal of the Commission.

But Abruzzi said that of the 26 people who spoke, only six were property owners within the boundary of the proposed district and only four of those six owned buildings that added to the historical integrity of the district – known as contributing buildings.

Abruzzi said that the proposed local district – Union to Fairfax and Wilkes to Green –  contained 80 buildings – owned by 61 property owners –  of which 51 were deemed to be contributing.

“I share this because I believe between the business owners who own property within the proposed local district who signed the petition, plus those property owners who’ve expressed an interest, there were at least 16 property owners who would like to have the process go forward,” Abruzzi said.  “And there are at least seven other property owners who I believe would be on board.  This means without any additional work there were already likely 23 property owners who would like to see the process through.” 

“While that is about half the number who would need to be on board for the Commission to feel comfortable enough to go through and take the final step of formal notification it is ultimately only 8 short of the number to reach the official threshold of 51% to establish a local historic district.” 

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid that support was drowned out last night by the negative comments made by those who in no way will be affected by this since the properties they own would be outside the boundary of any proposed district.”  

Abruzzi said that “much of the discussion was misdirected at attacking a first draft of an amended Commission’s ordinance that on behalf of the Commission I drafted months ago.” 

“I put together the draft after the Town Council and ordinance committee repeatedly ignored the Commission’s request to meet and begin the writing process.  The draft was a ‘cut and paste’ from the state law – as is the current Commission ordinance – since any ordinance has to begin somewhere.  The hope was to meet with the ordinance committee and use that as a starting point and develop an actual ordinance to fit the needs of the Town of Bath.”   

“Instead, the Town Council voted 4-2 on May 18 for the first time ever to post and distribute a draft document to the public that they themselves had never reviewed,” Abruzzi wrote. “If that’s what passes for good governance I am afraid for us all.  There also appeared to be at least one other document circulating – and that several people referred to – that was full of misinformation like property owners would have to pick from three-tone color schemes.  As many of you know for four years the one constant has been the Commission will not dictate paint colors. The sharing of the draft ordinance coupled with the misinformation in this other document basically served to derail the meeting.” 

“For those who believe in the value and importance of historic preservation and protections I apologize for not being able to bring it any closer,” Abruzzi wrote.

(May is National Historic Preservation Month.)

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