March 28, 2017

Op-Ed: Support Sound View’s Historic District Designation With its Numerous Benefits; Ignore Inaccuracies Being Circulated

The author of this op-ed submits that there is strong evidence that Sound View is one of the oldest public beaches in the country. The image above shows the beach circa 1920.

The author of this op-ed, Michaelle Pearson, states that there is strong evidence that Sound View is the oldest public beach in the country. The image above shows the beach circa 1920.

COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE ARE NOW CLOSED: Sound View residents have been receiving letters from Heidi DiNino-Fields of Hartford Avenue urging them to register their opposition to the Sound View Historic District designation. These letters are filled with incorrect information, designed to confuse and frighten residents into opposition. Among the more blatant lies are that owners would not be able to paint or maintain their property; that it would negatively affect insurance, taxes and marketability; that it would impede upgrading to FEMA standards, and that the property “will essentially be frozen in as-is condition.” Each of these is completely false.

The National Historic Register is simply an Honorary designation to recognize neighborhoods that have a unique character and history. There are absolutely no restrictions on owners’ ability to renovate or develop their properties. This designation is different from the Town Historic District, on Lyme Street, which is overseen by the Historic District Commission, and has nothing to do with Sound View, or this type of designation.

Having a property within the Sound View Historic District actually conveys many benefits on owners, including better rates on insurance, better marketability, and assistance with waivers to FEMA requirements, building and zoning. The designation’s purpose is to make it easier for owners to renovate and develop their properties, if that is their choice. If an owner wants to renovate their property in a non-historic manner, or not at all, that is their choice. There is no government entity that can or will tell them what they can or can’t do.

IF an owner chooses to renovate in a historic manner, they become eligible for grant programs and tax abatements up to $30,000. If the owner wants the tax credit, that particular work will be subject to review, but only to ensure that the money is going toward a historic renovation. If an owner doesn’t take the cash, they can do whatever they like. No review or oversight whatsoever. Historic District designation has no impact on property taxes.

Sound View’s rich history has been obscured for too long by its rowdy reputation from the 1950s-1990s. As an intact pre-1938 beach community, Sound View is a unique and rare coastal resource. It was developed in the early 1890s, and there is very good evidence that it is the nation’s oldest public beach. Many of the cottages have been passed down for generations within the same families, and are maintained with pride to this day. The Historic District designation honors this tradition, and will help to preserve the neighborhood and public beach for future generations. This is a valuable opportunity for our town. Let’s not let one uninformed naysayer scare people into opting out of this positive opportunity.

For the true story, actual facts, and some very interesting historic details, I urge concerned residents to read the official application which will be posted on the Old Lyme Town website early next week at http://www.oldlyme-ct.gov/Pages/OldLymeCT_projects/currentprojects

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Comments

  1. Although I have not seen the letter in the question, I will say that SECoast has been working closely on issues related to national registration, with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (Old Lyme’s key partner on the high-speed rail issue).

    And Ms. Pearson is correct, that this designation primarily functions to allow residents and business owners to apply for tax credits available only to registered properties. These tax credits can help pay for roofs, furnaces, painting, etc. The designation does not constrain owners from altering or updating, buying or selling your property.

    I understand the confusion, nothing in life is free, but rest assured, this is about as close as it comes, and I strongly believe that registration will help pave the way to higher property values and a renewed Hartford Avenue.

    Thank you, Ms. Pearson, for helping correct the record, and to Lymeline (once again) for helping educate the public on key issues of community and preservation.

  2. Joseph Rocco says:

    Once we become a historic district can’t the town create local preservation laws? I believe the answer is yes and that’s where the restrictions begin!

    • From a national P & C Insurance Carrier located here in CT that actually has a historic underwriting division:

      http://www.slideshare.net/Billhosley/trials-tribulations-of-insuring-historic-houses-from-ct-trust-middlesex-mutual

      • National Register District designation and Local District designation are completely different designations.

        The NR designation proposed for the Sound View neighborhood is an honorific, requiring no changes in zoning or planning designations, imposing no restrictions than are otherwise in place in local planning or zoning code. There are no affirmative maintenance requirements and there is certainly no requirement for (if or) how you paint your home. Google “National Register Myths” for multiple sources addressing common mis-impressions or misinterpretations of the National Register program. Here’s a brief produced by DECD here in CT: http://www.cultureandtourism.org/cct/lib/cct/National_Register_Fact_Sheet.pdf

        Old Lyme has a Historic District Commission that oversees a local historic district centered on Lyme Street. In my tracking of preservation issues in OL over the past year, I have heard no interest by the commission in expanding their purview beyond the current district. You can support National designation without prompting local designation. Let local government know of your support for one and concern for or opposition to the other. Theoretically, the town could pursue local designation without the NR district designation even being in place; any concerns one may have about local designation are, effectively, unrelated to the designation of a National Register district.

        As to the insurance issue, what changes with designation? Replacement value before is replacement value after. Designation should not change the cost of the insurer’s response to covering their policy, particularly for the simpler construction proposed for listing in the Sound View district.

        • Evan Rowe says:

          @danielmackay “As to the insurance issue, what changes…?”

          imo, the scope of your policy will change as will the selection of carriers (fewer).

          • My reading of the above is that it twists the meaning of the texts. When we insured our 1692 house, we had no such problems. We had the policy tailored to our coverage needs, and they were happy to oblige. There are dozens of houses with registered in the area, and I have never heard a complaint regarding coverage. Nor has anyone actually stepped in to say that this would be a problem.

  3. Michaelle Pearson says:

    No. This designation has nothing to do with the town, and certainly doesn’t grant them broader zoning/enforcement powers than they already have. It is a national honor roll of significant properties and neighborhoods. It has absolutely nothing to do with the local historic district, and nothing to do with the town government. Take a look at the National Register of Historic Places fact sheet:
    http://www.cultureandtourism.org/cct/lib/cct/National_Register_Fact_Sheet.pdf

  4. Joseph, the town can create preservation laws with or without a historic district. I assume that would require some sort of vote. And I have yet to hear anyone propose or suggest such a thing, in public or private. In fact, just the opposite.

    Although we have not taken part in this particular process, as an organization invested in the National Register process, we want to make clear that the National Register is not a signal of creeping restrictions, but simply a way to designate houses and neighborhoods for tax credits and for protection from government overreach (e.g. NEC Future). I think it is fair to say, that registration enhances, rather than diminishes, private property, by forcing federally-funded projects to more carefully consider the impacts to listed properties.

    I understand the concerns, but it’s really simply a confusion of very similar sounding things.

  5. karen fallo says:

    i am very involved with our farmington home which has obtainted many benifits from being a historic home
    2percent mortgage lower taxes grants for updating suvh as gas electri windows and plumbing
    amazing and t hg e guidlines are not at all an issue
    infact the help offered by being in an historic area has many advantages

    • Evan Rowe says:

      @karenfallo

      Did you already buy your historic home knowing it was historic (i.e. it was in a preexisting district)?? …OR did you buy it and then it/your neighborhood was nominated and became listed on the Historical Registry during the tenure of your ownership?? If it is the former and not the latter, then comparing your Farmington experience to the Sound View Beach scenario is not apples-to-apples. Just saying.

  6. Frank Pappalardo says:

    Below is a response from Charles Vigorita shared on the Sound View Beach Facebook page. It should clear up the concerns regarding insurance.
    Charles Vigorita wrote: “I knew Maj Britt (author of the article), i was one of the developers of the insurance product she was in charge of. It was called the restorations by Middlesex insurance. The product was geared towards homeowners of homes whose replacement cost was way beyond the actual market cost. I.e. try to reproduce a real Victorian home from the 1800’s, today…. this is what she was talking about. It might be worth $200k in today’s real estate market, however it might cost $500k to reproduce if a fire would to burn it down. I do not know what the historical district has to do with Sound View; that is for you to decide. I do know why the product was developed and why the article was written.”

    • exactly. This was precisely the offer the choice offered with our 1692 house. We chose to be insured at market value, because a 1692 house is impossible to remake. We had no problems obtaining insurance coverage. And surely if a 1692 house can be insured, a building in Sound View can be as well.

  7. Evan Rowe says:

    The point is that since the publishing of that article, there have been 2 major storms and a round of FEMA re-do’s for affected coastal areas (not excluding Old Lyme) both of which elements curtail underwriting and enrich the actuarial tables that determine premiums, deductibles, and general renewals for ALL structures, especially historical district ones. Furthermore, the salient points of the first two opening paragraphs of her article are that it is:

    “…increasingly difficult to obtain quality insurance coverage for their properties. This is especially true for houses located in historic districts or listed on the National Register…many insurance carriers view these properties as difficult and costly because of an additional party involved–an organization in addition to the local building code inspector who manages local historic regulations…”

    Most noteworthy to Sound View property owners is that (1) Kaal is speaking of the very same Register that is on the table for Sound View Beach thanks to the recent nomination, a scenario still questionable (as even Mr. Vigorita equitably and tactfully mentioned) and (2) that the “additional party involved” is indeed, by implication, another layer of rule-makers charged to filter any/all future regulations, requests, or actions by property owners associated with the affected properties.

    With all that said, the most important portion of the article is the advice given in its last paragraph that underscores the necessity of each owner “to be proactive about insurance”. Translation of all of this is that insurance WILL go up and be MORE DIFFICULT to navigate once you are within a historic district. Sound View residents should be empowered to call their own carrier. And if any supporter of the Historic Nomination fails to mention THAT to affected residents, then they are taking this “good idea” and unfolding it in an irresponsible way.

  8. Donna Brown says:

    I called my insurance company it will make your insurance more scrutinized…sorry I have to sign the petition on this – Heidi may not have all the facts but I already pay enough insurance and taxes to the Town of Old Lyme. Everyone needs to check with their carrier and also mortgage company (yes some of us do have them) and see if their is a positive or negative value for having the little marker on 156.

  9. Evan Rowe says:

    The following is from a community member at Sound View Beach and posted on the SVB Group’s Facebook forum regarding her own research into the Historical nomination before us vis-a-vis insurance:

    “I did call my insurance agent today and was told that my insurance carrier would not insure me if my property is deemed “historical”. My agent checked with 3 other carriers (Travelers being one of them) and none of them would write policies. There is another way I could go but it would be very expensive. I already pay enough for insurance (as I’m sure you all do) so unfortunately I will be opting out of this.” -Joanne Pappaceno

  10. Evan Rowe says:

    @danielmackay @michaellepearson @donnabrown @georgestroud @frankpappalardo @karenfallo

    There is one Register for the National Historic listing of districts, etc and insurance companies run from it. Other than “honor” and “charm”, just please at least concede that there are negative consequences (many monetary not just regulatory) to living in an Historical District. That’s all. And let people make their own decision.

  11. Frank Pappalardo says:

    Much has been posted regarding insurance. Several property owners have contacted their insurance agents for guidance. It is essential that when this is done accurate information is provided to the agent. Too many times National Registry of Historic Places listing vs. Town Historic District become confused with each other and are viewed as the same. They are not and insurance underwriting procedures are different. There are many variables that are in play here such as flood plain location, age, type and condition of house, individual circumstances, type of insurance, etc., and one size doesn’t fit all. So if insurance is a concern please provide accurate information to your agent for a determination. There are opportunities available to us by being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it would be regretful if a person’s individual situation negatively influences others. I reached out to Jenny Scofield, AICP, State and National Register Coordinator for some further guidance. Jenny has also offered to speak with Sound View property owners who have questions. Please reach out to Jenny, she is a wealth of information and will be able to help you navigate the proper terminology when talking with your insurance agent. Below is her response and contact information.
    Jenny wrote:
    The National Register of Historic Places is an honorary designation with no restrictions placed on property owners as a result of listing. Therefore, there is no “third party approval” required from the state or federal government in the case that a property owner needs to replace their home. There is also no requirement that a property owner reconstruct a formerly historic house or re-create a specific feature just because the property is listed on the National Register. We actually do not consider the re-creation of buildings to be historic preservation as the historic resource is already gone. If a house located in a National Register district was lost/removed/demolished and replaced with a new house, we would consider that new house to be non-contributing to the district (not historic in other words) regardless of what materials or design was used.
    National Register Historic Districts are often confused with Local Historic Districts. In local districts, changes to the exterior that are visible from a public way and require a building permit are reviewed by a local Historic District Commission. National Register listings do not have this regulation.
    There is some more information on this topic available from the National Park Service here: https://www.nps.gov/nr/faq.htm. The National Park Service website says:
    Are there insurance regulation implications of a house being listed in the National Register?
    Listing in the National Register places neither restrictions nor requirements on a private property owner. You may do with the property as you wish, within the framework of local laws or ordinances. You are not required to maintain the property in any specific way; you may demolish the property without federal permission. Should the property be demolished through accident (fire, storm, or other cause), you are not required to have insurance that mandates “replications” of the historic property; in fact, this would be discouraged. A replacement copy of the historic house is not historic—it is merely a new house that looks like a historic house. The historic property should be treated like any other house for insurance purposes.
    We have also directed property owners to contact their state’s insurance commissioners for any policy or position paper regarding insuring National Register-listed properties. We have seen nothing from any state insurance commission that indicates refusal to underwrite properties listed in the National Register.
    The Virginia State Historic Preservation Office also has a helpful statement on this topic. Please see the attached word file.
    In response to these concerns, the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office will plan to host a meeting with Connecticut insurance companies to do some additional fact finding.
    Regards,
    Jenny

    Jenny Scofield, AICP, State and National Register Coordinator
    State Historic Preservation Office
    Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD)
    One Constitution Plaza, Second Floor
    Hartford, CT 06103
    Phone: 860.256.2766
    fax: 860.256.2763
    email: jenny.scofield@ct.gov
    website: http://www.cultureandtourism.org

  12. Michaelle Pearson says:

    Of course people should make the best decision for them. But they need accurate information, not lies and scare tactics. It’s hard to sort out the truth when some people are deliberately circulating outright lies, like “the property is frozen in as-is condition,” etc. I understand the insurance question is something people are concerned about, and I was concerned too. I asked my insurance agent, and he said it shouldn’t make a difference but that some agents don’t understand the different levels of historic designations (there isn’t one register, there are several) so there could be confusion. I urge anyone concerned to contact their own insurer and ask if “listing on the National Historic Register” would adversely affect their coverage. That’s the best way to determine what the truth is for your own particular property, so you can make the best decision, based on fact, not rumor.

  13. Evan Rowe says:

    @frankpappalardo
    The fact that insurance is now being addressed just highlights the quiet issues that are involved with becoming historically designated. The thunder of silence from the Soundview Commission until this point only underscores the lack of candor and transparency with this entire process. Now that the horse is out of the barn, the conceivers of this nomination (and by inaction the Commission and any supporter of the movement) has made a sweeping decision for the entire community and forced homeowners to now call and inquire about tweaks to their insurances. There are a lot of moving parts involved in this process and the insurance bit is just one of them. People still have loads of concerns surrounding:

    – property taxes (another monetary issue),
    – marketability, as well as
    – the fact that the available grants and credits for improvements are limited and MUST BE applied for and competed for and are reimbursement based.

    Being neighborly is ensuring your peers are making an informed decision. All the selling points and “pros” are qualitative in nature such as honor and charm. However, the “maybes” and “cons” are all monetary in nature (taxes, insurance, difficulty of grants, property values, etc.).

  14. Evan Rowe says:

    @michaellepearson
    To my knowledge, the fact is that the address of the house in which you live is not in the proposed affected area. Operative words “live in”. That may explain why you would have no change. Please don’t decide (by implication or otherwise) that because you’re okay, everyone else might be. Furthermore, why would you stump so hard for something that you are untouched by? If you are not in the boat with them, stop playing captain.

    • michaelle pearson says:

      @Evan Rowe
      To my knowledge, you are not a Sound View Property owner at all, so why would you “stump so hard” against something that you are untouched by? I do own property that is designated historic under this nomination, not that it’s any of your business. People need to read the materials and make their own decisions based on the facts, not rumors and lies.There are numerous benefits in addition to the honor of being recognized as a historic district. This desigination can also help owners with FEMA waivers, building/zoning waivers, grants, and tax abatements for those who choose to take advantage of them. I asked my insurer specifically about my historic property and he said there shouldn’t be any change, and I urge anyone who has concerns to do the same, and also to read the official materials at
      http://www.cultureandtourism.org/cct/lib/cct/National_Register_Fact_Sheet.pdf

  15. Michaelle Pearson says:

    The town just published the map of included properties on their website. Not all properties are included. Take a look to see if your property is even affected by this. If your property is green, its historic. If it’s in grey, it’s not included. The entire West side of Portland Avenue is excluded, because it was developed later; also some individual properties on Portland, Hartford and Swan.
    Here’s the link: http://www.oldlyme-ct.gov/Pages/OldLymeCT_projects/historicsv

  16. Evan Rowe says:

    @michaellepearson
    How kind of you to share this when it’s so relevant, after the homeowners were not notified of the movement and after the application has sailed through to approval already. Very convenient that many commission members (lobbying for support of it) own parcels that are exempt from the map’s proposed district, too. Heavy lies the crown, I suppose, of your neighborly duties.

  17. Frank Pappalardo says:

    Evan,
    I find your remarks disingenuous as you continue to bring up many points that have been adequately addressed and have been found to have no basis in fact. Making statements regarding the actions of the Sound View Commission are disconcerting. You have chosen to discredit the work of the Sound View Commission, once again with no basis in fact. All Sound View Commission meetings are open to the public, with opportunity for public comment, and minutes are posted. Furthermore “being neighborly” as you put it is about working together to find solutions. I find your remarks repeatedly negative and subjective. You are entitled to your opinion however repeating your subjective views without supporting facts is not helping to find solutions and only furthers the disharmony within the community. As I, and many others, have recommended it is for each property owner to research for themselves and not accept the regurgitation of misinformation and biased views. Are you a Sound View property owner? If so is your property on the list?

  18. Laurie May says:

    I only wish certain Soundview residents would work as hard to spread positivity as they work to spread negativity… They don’t want to make any improvements… They don’t want any change …..Every good thing that comes along for Soundview is treated with skepticism and doubt and untruths… Where do they get the idea that designating Soundview as an honorary Historical area would put an end to getting sewers…??? Please friends and neighbors in Soundview… Read what has been put out and turn your backs on this negativity and take a positive step… Negative people find negativity in everything…Soundview is finally turning a corner and becoming what ALMOST all of us want it to be… A thriving happy place to live in .. Where we can be proud of all we have … From our newest Soundview Market to our bars on the beach..and all the wonderful things In between.. There is something for everyone and we can all share this happy place. We are not a “Ghetto Beach” and those who feel that way should not be blindly followed or listened to… Do you really think that the same people that are going door to door with untruths and untrue facts about an Honorary Historical area … Are explaining and presenting true facts to these “insurance companies” that say Ins rates will go up….When making your decision… Consider the source …..I say … “Soundview … Love it or leave it…”.. Work together with your neighbors to do positive things … And help Soundview grow to be what we all know it can be…

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