Whenever a municipality receives an application for demolition, it immediately puts them in a very difficult spot. They may call upon the advice of their historic preservation commission because deciding whether or not to demolish for example an old abandoned factory, can quickly become a pivotal & controversial project with lasting effects for the community. I say pivotal because we all can relate to the following fictitious tale.
—“The tiny tale of Happy Valley & the 3 Little Pink Boxes; How a battle, for or against building new luxury condos in hopes of raising tax revenues from within the downtown district, taught Happy Valley a hard earned lesson.”
Looking back now, it is frustrating to see how despite a fiery grassroots effort, hugely successful in raising awareness, still failed to “Save Old Man Stan’s Sprocket Factory!” It was also difficult to witness residents, neighbors even, fight so fiercely with each other that some felt it best to relocate. The bickering finally reached a boiling point within the all volunteer council. So vicious, divided and in public view were the disagreements, that eventually each was voted out one by one. Now Happy Valley’s Council is devoid of a single official with any knowledge of the community’s history whatsoever! The worst part is, that huge sums of money mostly in legal fees, were spent on all sides for naught. Because, at the end of the day, Little Pink Houses Building Group, Inc. got what they wanted. They tore down old man Stan’s factory and put up three fluffy new pink stucco luxury condos in its place. Adding salt to the wound, factory bricks were “saved” to construct a massive “Welcome to Happy Valley” sign at the junction of US 3 & the newly constructed bypass through town, “Sprocket Speedway,” named in Stan’s honor. Since then, there has been nothing but decline in Happy Valley’s downtown who only survives because of the weekend influx of apathetic renters desperate to escape NYC. They come to take advantage of the pink condo’s low low rates now that Happy Valley’s downtown is all but nearly dead!. They mainly just sleep there because now, they can conveniently hop onto Sprocket Speedway and swoop into nearby Pleasantville who still has a rustic winery operation, a few charming shops along main street and one last pub! The moral of the story is, it’s true that what’s old is new again.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to end that way! Taking this “tale” a bit further, here is one scenario of how things could go…
Before heading off to begin work, the commission could assure the Council that just because LPH is a savvy developer with deep pockets who did their homework and discovered our Achilles heel being; short on housing and low on tax revenues, doesn’t mean we will fall for their divide and conquer strategy and suffer the same fate as nearby Happy Valley. For starters, years ago when the Commission was created, thankfully we conducted written, online, and in-person community surveys in order to gather the history of Pleasantville. We paired that with extensive research and documentation to form a Master Plan that took into account the cultural and natural resources of Pleasantville. Although it is still unlikely residents will have time to invest in reading it, particularly considering the current stressors, we now have everyone’s attention. We also know that everyone feels differently regarding the struggle between saving history vs. meeting the needs of progress. And that people’s opinions are often so deeply ingrained in who they are as Americans, it is challenging for them to appreciate the opinions of others. So, we will need to write our report very carefully. Our end goal is a viable, livable and equitable, or “sustainable community,” whose development will require careful balancing of environmental, social and economic responsibilities. (Rypkema)
But, as often the case, these pivotal and permanent decisions don’t get funded or voted on until a demolition application has been filed and the clock is ticking! So, to get things rolling, we will open by deferring to Ronald Reagon who so wisely stated, “Historic Preservation makes good sense.” With our housing and revenue shortcomings reaching critical mass, our report will explain how the Demolition of Pleasantville’s historic Widget Factory does Not make good financial sense! In actuality, our report will really be detailing The Benefits of Adaptive Reuse for the Historic Widget Factory via Rehabilitation/Renovation into a mixed-use structure as a means to allow it fulfill its critical role as the cornerstone of new and soon to be ongoing revitalization of the downtown district as designed in the Master Plan so many years ago. An executive summary of the report is as follows:
Adaptively Reuse (AR) of the Historic Widget Factory makes good business sense because;
– AR is more Profitable Investment than is Demo; not only are devalued properties initially cheaper to acquire and potentially profitable to sell afterward, these properties also provide additional savings because of the costly repairs that are required in order for them to return to service. Unlike Demo projects, AR’s are eligible for Federal Tax Credits that are based on the amounts spent on repairs that demo’s can never possibly accrue! This then provides rescue & financial incentives for investment in very poor condition properties that would at first seem more appropriate for demolition. (Taylor, p. 308) A real win-win!
– The Federal Gov. receives a 20% Return on its Investment in AR; because for every $1.00 it invests in an AR project, it receives $1.20 back in Tax Revenues. State & Local tax incentives are also available for AR. (PlaceEconomics, p. 3)
– AR Create More Jobs; because AR are Incubators for Small Businesses and 85% of all new jobs are created by small businesses who employ less than 20 people. Businesses follow people, and they will choose to relocate accordingly, into downtown Pleasantville. (Rypkema, p. 4)
– AR Creates more Local Jobs; Unlike new construction that only relies on 50% of its cost for labor, AR averages 60-70% for its labor that can be provided by local tradesmen who are likely to spend their paychecks locally as well. AR projects with local skills available can also spur interest in additional AR projects. (Rypkema, p. 4)
– AR attracts 2 of the largest Population Segments; Millennials and Seniors. Studies show “that Millennials prefer to live, work and play in neighborhoods with historic buildings” (“Reclaiming”) Seniors seek what are labeled, “20-minute Villages.” (AARP) Both groups prefer all the elements available in our downtown such as; mixed-use buildings, varied housing options that are close to streets, and in close proximity to transportation, walkable and tree lined streets, and the community interaction that an Adaptively Reused Widget Factory can enhance and provide for.
– AR Generates New Revenue Streams; in addition to the new small business required by a more diverse population as listed above, AR’s also Increase Heritage Tourism; whose category of tourists, on average, stay longer, spend more, and return more frequently than others.
– “Greener” than New “Green” Buildings; The building fabric of historic structures contain “embodied energy” that are costly to replace and are difficult to match in energy savings in the long run. For example, it would take 400 years for a new replacement window to pay back the energy savings provided by a historic wood window. Additionally, older materials are more durable, repairable compared to new materials that are often designed to be replaced every 10-20 years! Furthermore, by deeming valuable historic materials as trash, demolition contributes to the fact that construction debris makes up 1/3rd – 1/4th of our landfills. (Rypkema)
– AR Prevents Sprawl; because it does not require the expansion of the municipal services such as; fire, police, water, sewer, etc. that are costly to build! AND new facilities often require the acquisition and destructive use of additional unimproved land and/or limited open space.
– AR Increases Housing Density; by filling in the downtown with more “missing middle” sector housing, it provides housing right where people need and want to be, reducing housing shortfalls, statistically for those of modest means.
– Increase Tax Revenues; increased density and by applying a “Revenue per Acre” vs “Revenue per Structure,” AR builds a stable, slow growth economy because it leverages Pleasantville’s traditional downtown zoning, consisting of multi-use structures on compact, small-lots over a preference of single, big/expensive structures on fewer larger lots. (Landry, “What’s”)
– Increased Property Values; because numerous studies show that the improvements on average yield a 20% increase. We can expect quality craftsmanship because all work conducted using Federal Tax Credits must be consistent with the SOI Standards in order for the credits to be awarded. With building conservation underway, nearby properties will also experience similar increases as those within the Historic District. (“Connecticut Local”, 2011)
– Stabilizes Local Economy; encourages diversity in both population and in types and sectors of business. This diversity bolsters local economies that then dampens the effects of inevitable down economies.
In summary, the Pleasantville Historic Commission, recommends the Council deny the application for demolition of the Widget Factory.
Next step, we look forward to moving ahead with an Economic Development strategy planning session and are available to schedule a discussion at your convenience.
Again, we thank you and Best regards.
your Historic Preservation Commission
Connecticut Local Historic Districts and Property Values, prepared by PlaceEconomics, Washington, DC, October (2011) Online. https://www.placeeconomics.com/resources/connecticut-local-historic-districts-and-property-values/
Frey, Patrice, et al. “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse.” Preservation Green Lab: National Trust for Historic Preservation. 2011. VI-XI; 13-24. Online. https://forum.savingplaces.org/viewdocument/the-greenest-building-quantifying
Landry, Felix. “What’s In Your City’s Wallet?” 26, March 2019. StrongTowns. Online. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/3/25/whats-in-your-citys-wallet
“Reclaiming the Past in Bricks and Mortar: New Study Reveals Millennials Desire to Connect with Historic Places” The National Trust for Historic Preservation. 17, June 2017. Online. https://savingplaces.org/press-center/media-resources/new-study-reveals-millennials-desire-to-connect-with-historic-places#.YInAXehKiUk
Rypkema, Donald. “Sustainability and Historic Preservation.” Economic Benefits of Preservation Session, Historic Districts Council Annual Conference, New York City, March 10, 2007.
Tyler. “Historic Preservation; An introduction to its history, principles and practice.” W.W. Norton.
Walljasper, Jay. “Welcome to the 20-Minute Village.” AARP. Online. https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/livable-in-action/info-2017/20-minute-village.html
“38 Reasons to Keep the Federal Historic Tax Credit download.” PlaceEconomics, 2017. 1-6.