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Group seeks historical district downtown

January 16, 2002

Group seeks historical district downtown



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The Waynesboro Historical Society in 1991 hired an expert to do an architectural survey of the buildings in the downtown commercial center along Main Street from the tollgate House on the east to Franklin Street on the west.

A report on his findings was sent to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Historic Preservation. The state, based on the report, deemed that downtown Waynesboro would be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, said James Smith, a society member and co-chairman of its preservation committee.

Such a designation would enable commercial property owners in the district to be eligible for federal grants for major renovation projects provided they followed the dictates of the National Preservation Act, Smith said.

A bill pending in the Pennsylvania Legislature would give a 20 percent break on the state income taxes of an affected property owner plus an exemption on sales taxes for materials for any renovation project, Smith said.

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The society wants to turn the central business core into a historic district. It could be done without the permission of the Borough Council provided a majority of the affected property owners agreed, Smith said.

Each property owner, whether commercial or private home owner, would have a single vote, no matter how many properties he or she owned in the proposed district, Smith said. The balloting could be done by a voice vote at a meeting called by the society, he said.

Once the district was in place the society would ask the council to adopt an ordinance that would compel property owners to apply for permits to an appointed historic architectural review board for any changes to the facades of their buildings.

The same ordinance would give the council veto power over review board decisions on appeals by property owners.

The borough of Mercersburg has such an ordinance on the books, said Kay Hoffman, society president. Martinsburg and Shepherdstown in West Virginia and Frederick, Md., have similar ordinances in place.

Smith said it could take up to two years to get Waynesboro listed on the National Register.

The next step is to meet with the Borough Council to inform the members of the society's plan, Hoffman said. "Right now we're just trying to educate people," she said. "We need the support of the council and the public."

Smith said the society would bring a state expert in historical preservation to the meeting with the council.

The society would proceed with the effort even if it doesn't receive the council's blessings, he said.

"Historic districts increase property values and increase business. It's a tool for economic revitalization, not just a tool to save an old building," Smith said.

"The biggest threat to the downtown area is the lack of upkeep to some buildings," he said. "And there's always the threat of a new business coming in and tearing down a historic resource and replacing it with a nondescript concrete box."

"Our goal is to preserve the integrity of the downtown streetscape," Hoffman said. "We have older buildings that need to be preserved."

Councilman Charles "Chip" McCammon has said he is not opposed to a historic district, that a lot of towns have them and that it could be good for Waynesboro.

Council President Doug Tengler has taken a cautious approach to the idea, saying he would be willing to give it some thought.

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