The Falmouth Community Preservation Committee is considering the idea of allowing private homeowners to apply for town Community Preservation Act funds to restore or preserve their historic homes.
Falmouth Historical Commission Chairman Edward J. Haddad made the suggestions at the committee’s Thursday, May 9, meeting,
“The majority, if not 95 to 99 percent of historic properties in Falmouth, are in private hands,” he said. “That is where Falmouth’s history is: in private hands,” Mr. Haddad said. Under current community preservation committee policy, he said, these private homeowners are not eligible for community preservation funds.
Preservation committee chairman Russell R. Robbins asked who would police applications from private homeowner applicants. Mr. Haddad said applicants would have to go through the same qualification process as any other community preservation committee applicant.
He recommended the committee create strict guidelines for these applicants, such as requiring any homeowner who accepts community preservation funds to place a preservation restriction on their property. In addition, he recommended limiting which homeowners were eligible. The funds could be limited to those in a historic district or on the list of significant buildings.
“The intention is to improve the town and improve the streetscape,” Mr. Haddad said. “The intention is not to give a homeowner $200,000 to turn their home into a $1 million home and sell it.”
He said many community preservation committees fund privately owned historic preservation projects. He specifically cited Cambridge as an example.
Nicole Goldman, the historical commission’s representative on the community preservation committee, said Falmouth could look to those towns for guidance.
“I’m certain, of course, that there are models out there from other towns showing what has been successful and what has not been successful,” Ms. Goldman said.
She added that requiring a preservation restriction could allow the town to protect houses outside historic districts without expanding the historic districts.
“As more properties get older and older and older, there is a great resistance to expanding historic districts,” Ms. Goldman said, and providing homeowners with a financial incentive could encourage people to preserve their historic properties.
Committee member Stephen T. Patton asked if requiring a preservation restriction would discourage applicants from applying. Mr. Haddad said he did not know how people would react to a preservation restriction, but anyone applying for funding would know about it.
“This is a voluntary action on the part of the homeowner,” Mr. Haddad said. “If they object to the restriction, they don’t apply.”
Mr. Robbins said the restriction was akin to an “insurance policy” for the town, ensuring the taxpayer investment in the property does not go to waste.
Committee member Paul C. Glynn said that while Falmouth has not provided private homeowners with community preservation funds, the committee has used the Falmouth Affordable Housing Fund to support private businesses developing affordable housing. With the right rules in place, the committee can do the same for historic preservation.
“To me, I think it is a great idea, but we have got to be tight on it,” Mr. Glynn said.
Mr. Haddad agreed. “To start the project off, we would be very, very tight, very restrictive, so it is is only two or three or four people who qualify,” he said. “Just because you have an old house, you will not qualify. It will be very selective.”
In addition to a review by the community preservation committee, Mr. Haddad said the historical commission could also review any homeowner requesting funds for historic preservation.
If the application process goes well, the town could expand the eligibility pool at a later date.
“As we become more comfortable with how it works, we can change the rules,” Mr. Haddad said. “I’m not suggesting we be silly about it and open the floodgates.”
The community preservation committee took no vote on the matter.
“This is just the beginning of the discussion,” Mr. Robbins said. “It will be on the agenda again.”