To better inform your decision about the upcoming election, SPT sent four questions regarding important current historic preservation topics to better understand how city council candidates stand on historic preservation in Springfield. We sent the following questions to all city council candidates and asked that they respond by October 4th.
1) The Historical Commission protects 1,300 properties in the City’s eleven local historic districts, oversees the Demolition Delay Ordinance, and reviews federal, state and municipal projects which impact historic resources. The Commission remains, however, one of the few major commissions not provided staff support by anyone trained in its area.
Would you support creation of a position trained in historic preservation to assist the Springfield Historical Commission and then advocate with the Mayor to fund the position?
2) The Historical Commission is composed of 7 members and 2 alternates. One seat has been vacant for more than 4 years. Several commissioners have poor attendance records. In the past year, several meetings have had to be canceled due to lack of quorum. Applications for work within historic districts are automatically approved if not acted upon within 60 days.
What would you as a city councilor do to ensure all Historical Commission seats are full and that Historical Commission members attend meetings?
3) The City continues to fund demolition, including demolition of historic buildings, rather than offer rehabilitation incentives. This policy reduces the tax base and disrupts neighborhoods.
What would you do as a city councilor to see that the City’s first efforts are to provide rehabilitation incentives rather than to utilize demolition funds?
4) The City often holds tax-foreclosed buildings for several years, during which the structures deteriorate from lack of care. For example, the City foreclosed in 2009 on the historic Chapman & Brooks Block at 135 Lyman Street and the historic Knox Automobile Factory at 53 Wilbraham Road. Both buildings are now in far worse condition than when acquired by the City.
What would you as City Councilor do to ensure that foreclosed buildings are maintained while awaiting disposition?
Below are the Responses Received
(additional responses added as received)
Michael A. Fenton, Ward 2
- I would ensure that only qualified and committed residents are appointed to the HC. The City Council has confirmation power over these appointments and I will make a point of asking about attendance in the confirmation hearing. It members are consistently absent I will ask that the appointing authority consider a new appointment next time around.
- I was a co-author of the demo delay ordinance, as well as the ordinance which stipulates that City owned properties cannot be demolished without first putting out an RFP and offering the funds that would have been spent on demolition to potential purchasers to be used instead as funds to assist in remediate the property. I will continue these efforts and more.
- I will work with the Building Department as well as Code Enforcement to ensure that the City is keeping its properties in the same condition which we would require any other private developer.
Justin Hurst, At-Large
- Yes. I have always been adamant that our historic homes and buildings are an economic engine that attract people to live, work, and play in the City of Springfield and we must protect them. I appreciate the work of the Commission as I’m starting to realize the effort that goes into to fulfilling the obligations of this appointment. If assistance is needed to maintain the integrity of the work, then we as a city should make our best efforts to provide it.
- I would welcome signing on to a letter from the Historic Commission addressed to the Mayor and even sponsoring a resolve that urges him to fill any vacant positions on the Historical Commission and explains the importance of doing so. Also, I think it is important that prior to City Council confirmation of these appointments that we have a member of the Historical Commission present at the sub-committee meeting who explains the time commitment involved and the importance of attending meetings. It should also be documented at the outset of all appointments that if a member misses a certain number of meetings that he or she will be automatically be removed from the committee.
- I think it is always important to offer incentives to rehab properties and if the city cannot use Community Development Block Grant funds which they have claimed in the past, then it should allot money from the general fund to incentivize the rehabilitation of historic buildings. The city also needs to make sure that when it offers incentives, that it does a better job advertising to increase the pool of potential investors.
- This question is one that I need to do more research on. My initial thought is that if the City offers incentives that are significant enough to encourage investors to purchase and rehab these historic properties in a timely fashion, then the City won’t find itself having to maintain and upkeep these properties for as long as they do. I don’t know what it costs to maintain these properties on a yearly basis, but it seems to me that when offering incentives that the City should factor this amount into what they decide to offer as an incentive. It also makes sense that if the City is looking to receive viable offers for rehabilitation, then maintaining the property is a must and the City should do whatever it takes to do so.
Christopher Pohner, At-Large
- Yes, I feel that Springfield’s historic buildings and areas are a vital part of Springfields appeal
- Yes those who accept the position should stay involved or resign such title and position
- Depending on the property, use, location, and restoration feasibility
- I feel that financial institutions should bear more responsibility to secure a site and should be held accountable to do so
Israel Rivera, At-Large
- I would work for such a position to be created, as I value the historical richness that many of our Springfield buildings hold in our community. I would however, make sure that this position is carefully though out, and also that it is fiscally responsible to our community.
- Identifying qualified , committed, passionate people for your the historical commission must be a challenging task. I would suggest that the committee compile a list of requirements, that should include; frequency of meetings, clear expectations of attendance, and I would reccommend that recommendations for potential committee members, is one that all members would have an opportunity in vetting the candidate. As far as attendance, perhaps setting attendance requirements would have to be thoughtfully implemented.
- I would commit to carefully looking at said property , and evaluate the use of the property, how much would the cost be to rehabilitate the property? and what would the best possible solution for the potential that the property can bring to the community. There are variables in every situation, case by case.
- I would commit to working with the Mayors office, public works, on discussing sustainable ways on addressing blight on said properties.
Timothy J. Ryan, At-Large
- Rather than a stand alone person/employee, the city should appoint someone from either the Clerk’s office or the Planning Department to assist on these duties. I am not sure which is the best fit, but there should be someone from within the city who is appointed to assist the Historic Commission.
- That is a Mayoral duty to ensure that the members of the City’s Boards and Commissions are performing the jobs they were appointed to perform. I am happy to talk to the Mayor about chronic non-performers and the need to replace same. In my opinion quiet conversation with the Mayor has the potential to bring results. One fundamental obligation of any board member is attendance.
- The city has worked with First Resources to redevelop the vacant State Street side of Indian Motorcycle, as well as the Old Mason Square Fire Station. Before the City Council on September 25 is a Special Permit request to allow the former Brooking School to be developed for housing. I still remember the fight to save the Ken-Wood apartments on Belmont and Kenwood park. I am waiting to support any proposal regarding the 31 Elm Street block. So I think there is a lot of significant redevelopment happening. There is money for demolition, but some buildings are too far gone to be re-developed. As it is I think the last 2-4 years has seen amazing progress on buildings that look liked they wouldn’t be saved.
- The city has precarious finances, and we don’t like to take back large buildings such as Knox Auto. The city only takes action due to the fact that the owners are not paying the real estate taxes owed. However, we don’t have a stash of funds that would allow the city to pour money into these structures. I know the city is trying to auction these tax title properties in a timely manner, but there are delays, and for some of these properties I am not aware of any market interest in them. I wish I could offer you some alternative answer, but financial truths state that the city has very limited resources.
Kateri B. Walsh, At-Large
- Yes. I have publicly supported the need for an individual trained in historic preservation to assist the Springfield Historic Commission. A city our size and with so many historic districts and homes needs a position in city government to help citizens with their concerns and questions and to assist the Commission in fulfilling their obligations.
- As a City Councilor, I would and have supported the nominations of candidates to sit on the Historic Commission . Hopefully, those nominated will be interested in historic preservation and understand its value in our City. The Council however does not make the nominations. If attendance is a problem, that’s an issue for the Historic Commission to resolve.
- The City Council has taken steps to provide rehabilitation incentives. .We passed the Demolition Delay Ordinance to help address this issue. We can advocate for this initiative but have no authority to fund programs. Also ,we take into advisement the recommendations of the Springfield Historic Commission as to whether rehabilitation or demolition is needed.
- Regarding foreclosed buildings awaiting disposition, I would support allocating funds to secure the buildings and protect structures so no one gets hurt.Funding Maintenance Of tax-foreclosed buildings is a priority. However as noted above, allocation of funds are not the purview of the City Council and would have to be included in the city’s budget .
Jesse Lederman, At-Large
- Yes. As a City Councilor, I am acutely aware of the importance of our local officials, both appointed and elected, having all of the necessary information to make the most informed decision possible. I also believe that our historic buildings and homes in the City of Springfield are among our greatest assets, making the role of the Historic Commission in preserving those assets critical to the future of our city. The Historic Commission has long functioned without this important staff support, mainly due to the fortune of having well informed members who have dedicated many hours of volunteer work beyond their normal service to ensure the Commission continues to function appropriately. However, this is not a sustainable practice and in the long-term does not represent good government. For that reason I have already begun conversations with the administration regarding the creation of such a position, and possible sources to fund such a position.
- Earlier this year I filed a successful resolution calling for the filling of all vacancies on Boards and Commissions including the Historic Commission. Since then we have seen 3 new Historic Commissioners seated. I will continue to publicly advocate for all vacancies to be filled to ensure that our municipal boards are able to function as they are designed to serve the people of Springfield.
- I am supportive of the current Demolition Delay Ordinance that extends additional protections against demolition to buildings over 100 years old and buildings located on the National Register of Historic Places, and engages the Historic Commission upon interest in demolition being expressed. This ordinance also requires the city to advertise the property through an RFP process with funds equal to or greater than the cost of the demolition to attract potential developers or other individuals to restore the property and avoid demolition. I believe that demolition of our historic properties should only ever be a last resort in the event of eminent threats to public safety, and that otherwise the city should do everything in its power to prioritize restoration over demolition.
- I believe that the City Council’s Sub-Committee process offers a strong mechanism for accountability. Working together with preservation advocates, I believe that the General Government Committee can hold oversight hearings to ensure that historic properties under the control of the city are receiving proper stabilization and maintenance to deter future deterioration of our historic assets. Alongside this must come a comprehensive plan for the marketing of such properties to see them restored appropriately.
Kelli Moriarty Finn, At-Large
- I fully support the creation of such a position. We call Springfield the City of Homes! My husband, David Finn, is a commissioner on the SHC and he often laments that the commission lacks a person who is well-versed in preservation to not only assist the other commissioners but also assist owners of historic properties or those considering the purchase of one. Often times people buy historic properties without fully understanding the financial impact and requirements that come with the purchase. A person trained in preservation could meet with potential buyers in advance so they entered the purchase with eyes open and were set up for success.
- Criteria for selection as a commissioner must be the fact that commissioners must be able to attend a specific number of meetings per year. Certainly people’s schedules can occasionally get challenging, but failure to meet quorum should not be an excuse for not making progress. The schedule of meetings is known well in advance. Also, the Mayor should consider appointees that actually care about truly serving, not just appoint those he feels are his allies. As a councilor, I’d move to say that if a commissioner fails to attend a specific number of meetings, they should have to explain their absences and face possible removal from the commission.
- If you have listened to me throughout my candidacy, I’ve been quite vocal about our non-existent tax base. We simply do not have enough people choosing to live in the city. While we have a $50mm reserve, our pension is still woefully underfunded. This needs to change very soon or tough decisions will need to be made. As the City of Homes, we should try to offer rehab incentives always as a first attempt rather than choose demolition. As a councilor, I’d move to require that each case recommending demolition be reviewed by the council first, to ensure that all possible alternatives have been exhausted.
- As president of the Hungry Hill Community Development Corporation, it is my job to find foreclosed properties within the Hungry Hill neighborhood, buy them at auction, and work with the First Resource Corporation to rehabilitate and sell those properties in an effort to maintain the stability of the neighborhood and provide affordable and often first-time homeownership to a family. It is true that the City holds many properties on the books currently that have been ‘let go’ for too long, and this creates a challenge when it comes time to auction them. But this is a challenge – does the City have the funds required to maintain the properties to an acceptable level or should the City just stop acquiring properties? As a City Councilor, I’d push to have local real estate developers that currently have a footprint in Springfield partner with the City the to invest in the care and maintenance of those buildings. If the City had sufficient funds to maintain them on their own, I’d prefer that – we’d quite possibly be able to get more for every property, have them occupied, which would go a long way in ensuring the stability of the neighborhoods in which they are.
Melvin Edwards, Ward 3
- Continue to encourage the Mayor to nominate members and then approve their nominations in a timely manner.
- Continue to encourage the Mayor to direct the members of the Planning & Economic Development Department, Law Department, and the Housing Department to make rehabilitation incentives rather than to utilize demolition funds available for City Council approval.
- Continue to encourage the Mayor to direct the appropriate city agents to secure all properties under the legal control of the city and to appropriately fund those city departments.
Tracye Whitfield, At Large
- Yes, I support the creation of a new position trained in Historic Preservation to assist the Commission. This position is important because the commission members are unpaid volunteers. They can use the support of a paid staff member to assist with administrative tasks. I will work with the Mayor to figure out creative ways to fund the position. We along with the Springfield Historical Commission can research grants, department surpluses and city vacancies to possibly fund the position. I am willing to do all that I can to move this initiative forward.
- As a City Councilor and someone who has been a member of many boards with similar problems, I would first do my research on individual basis’s to ensure I have all the facts before taking action. There are times when life happens and absences cannot be avoided. This is not an excuse. I believe people genuinely want to do the best they can but something may be hindering that option. I believe communication is key. One method used on a board I was writing letters after so many absences. The letter explained why the commitment it is important and also gave the option to resign. I believe an enforceable attendance policy should be created, reviewed and signed at the beginning of every appointment. We should ensure Springfield residents are aware of all City Board and Commission vacancies and guide them in the direction to apply for positions of interest. The applicants should be educated on the commitment and appointed by the appropriate party after submitting a letter of intent. I believe there should be more of a structured process, as well as, the outdated vacancy list updated and posted on the City’s website.
- Springfield is known as the “City of Homes” because of the variety of housing options we have and the beauty and rich architect Historic Properties bring. Educating potential buyers and developers on the resources to save Historic Properties is crucial. There are state and federal tax incentives such as the Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, the Historic Curatorship Program and the federal Historic Tax Credit that can be used to entice developers and buyers to save the properties rather than demolish them. As a City Councilor, I am committed to learning and educating the community on the programs and how they are used.
- As City Councilors, it is our responsibility to ensure we contribute to the beautification of the City and the quality of life of our residents. As a former Financial Analyst with the City, I’ve learned a lot about different City departments and built lasting relationships with the department heads. Therefore, I will work in collaboration with the department heads and residents to ensure the properties are maintained. During budget season, we can discuss with the CAFO the option of contracting with a property preservation company that specialize in historic home upkeep to maintain these homes and buildings.