So much to save: Lenox invites public input on historic preservation

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LENOX — With 339 local structures listed by the state as historic sites, town leaders are trying to get a handle on how best to preserve the community's vast array of significant properties dating back to the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

The public is invited to help set historic preservation priorities, opportunities, goals and strategies by attending a workshop Tuesday at the firehouse in the village of Lenox Dale or Wednesday at the Lenox Town Hall. Both gatherings are at 7 p.m.

In order to guide, support and maintain the historic buildings, the town is working with the state Historical Commission and a consultant, Heritage Strategies, LLC, to prepare a report, with guideposts to be included in an updated Lenox Master Plan.

The project is a spinoff of last year's celebrations of the town's 250th anniversary, Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller pointed out. She noted that the Master Plan has not been updated since 1999, nor has there been a detailed, communitywide review of historic preservation goals for many years.

The public workshops will help map out 10- to 20-year guideposts to advance and celebrate historic preservation, with a goal of setting priorities for effective use of the town's extensive historic, cultural and landscape assets, Miller explained.

"The workshops will hear from the public and stakeholders about challenges, opportunities and what are the important sites and landscapes and what can the town do better to promote and support historic preservation, which is a big deal and very important in Lenox," she said.

"Lenox and the Berkshires have such a unique sense of place," Miller commented, "and this is fed directly by our landscape, history and our buildings, from single-family residences to iconic estate properties."

The town has a Historic Commission and a Historic District Commission, both based at Town Hall, and the Historical Society, which operates the Museum of Lenox History at the Academy, 65 Main St. Built in 1803 as a private school, it became the first high school to open in Berkshire County. The Lenox Academy was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

"Lenox already does a lot to promote its history," Miller noted, through Community Preservation Act projects aimed at shoring up properties eligible for financial support, and the local Historic District Commission, which oversees maintenance and alterations of buildings as well as signs in the downtown center.

However, she said, Lenox Dale, with its many old residences, lacks the same level of protection as the downtown area.

"We're not going to have historic districts in every neighborhood," Miller emphasized, "but what are other ways to promote the identification and celebration of the old, historically significant homes?"

She also noted that the town owns and maintains many old, significant buildings that need repairs and maintenance, while some major employers such as Canyon Ranch — at the former Bellefontaine Estate — have renovated Gilded Age properties.

"We often hear that historic preservation makes it hard for developers," said Miller. "But there's a good balance you can strike."

She also cited the town's numerous nonprofit organizations that are caretakers for old buildings. "We hear from them every year as they seek funds to maintain the properties," Miller stated. "How do you prioritize them?"

The $25,000 historic preservation project is funded 50-50 by the town and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The contract with Heritage Strategies calls for completion by the end of this June.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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