Despite the last minute deal last week that saved 180-year-old St. Mark’s Church from possible demolition, Warren remains woefully unprepared to stave off threats to its irreplaceable historic properties. And revisions to the demolition ordinance currently being reviewed by the town council do not go nearly far enough to prevent future threats to Warren’s iconic structures.
Over the past few months the council has been reviewing an expanded demolition ordinance that calls for added layers of town review when property owners seek to substantially alter buildings they own.
Those behind the ordinance, including members of the Voluntary Historic District Commission, wanted the expanded ordinance to apply to all buildings 100 years or older, town-wide. But at a council meeting in June, Warren’s town solicitor suggested that that wasn’t possible, and noted two changes that have to be made: First, he said, the ordinance can apply only within the bounds of Warren’s historic district; second, the extra layers of review required of property owners should be voluntary in nature.
Solicitor Anthony DeSisto’s suggested revisions take all the teeth out of the ordinance, rendering it virtually useless. Whether the ordinance should apply town-wide is debatable, but to gut it of its authority and power? The town might as well drop it entirely, for all the good it will do.
Warren has struggled with the preservation question for years. Though the town is blessed with beautiful historic buildings and a quaint downtown that has drawn and continues to draw people here, there has never been the political will to take the hard steps necessary to protect Warren’s assets. That has got to change.
The need became abundantly clear two weeks ago when developers proposed tearing down a key piece of old Warren, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop them.
In the end, St. Mark’s got a miracle in the face of Dave Wescott, but Warren shouldn’t count on such saviors. Instead, the town council needs to take real steps to put an enforceable, tough and fair demolition ordinance in place. Ushering through the watered down version currently up for debate will do nobody any good. We hope the political will is there to make real change.