Lenox weighs honorary National Register of Historic Places designation


LENOX — To wrap up its yearlong 250th anniversary commemorations, the town has gained preliminary approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to include historic buildings in and near the village center on the National Register of Historic Places.

The citation, described as a pet project of the town's Historical Commission, is strictly honorary and reflects well on the town's historic interest, image and cachet as a tourism destination, commission Chairwoman Olga Weiss told the Select Board recently.

She emphasized that owners of the 213 properties included in the listing can opt out and that the designation imposes no restrictions on alterations to properties deemed historically valuable.

The honor should not be confused with a National Historic District listing, Weiss noted.

The National Register designation cites "the town's history, buildings, monuments, cemeteries, rich cultural history and prominent historic persons (Hawthorne, Melville, Kemble, Sedgwick, Ward, Patterson, Eggleston, Walker)."

"The designation does not have anything to do with if you want to put pink polka dots on your house," Weiss said. "But since the Massachusetts Historic Commission has deemed us worthy of this designation, I would hope people would not put pink polka dots on their houses."

The listing indicates that because the designated area is historically significant for the community, it allows owners of income-producing properties to apply for specific federal tax incentives for renovation projects.

"There are tax credit possibilities for people doing rehabilitation up to a certain standard set by the Massachusetts Secretary of State," Selectman Channing Gibson said. "That's really important for people to know, there's a lot of potential money available."

Owners of the listed properties will be notified by mail. About half of the buildings are within the official historic district encompassing the downtown business center.

"It does not in any way limit the owner's handling of the property," Weiss said. "I hope people will embrace this and understand that it's a positive and it does have that extra possibility for people with commercial ventures to avail themselves of dollars for rehabilitation."

"Historic district designations carry certain connotations, some favorable, some not so favorable," Select Board Chairman David Roche said. "This is mostly favorable, for sure. But in Lenox, we have a historical society, a historic district and a historic district commission. The fact that we have three things with `historic' makes it somewhat confusing."

Selectman Kenneth Fowler, who's also acting chairman of the town's Historic District Commission, stressed that the citation recognizes "the lives of people significant in our past, in our culture. That's one of the things Lenox stands out for, beyond buildings."

Describing the citation as a "win-win," Weiss said the town's Historic Commission meets at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14 on the second floor of the Lenox Academy building, 65 Main St., where further information is available and questions can be answered. Details are posted at www.townoflenox.com.

"What I have to do is convince the Massachusetts Historical Commission that the town is excited about this," she added. "The commission doesn't wish to impose anything, it wants the town to buy in and show enthusiasm."

Buy-in would be based on positive responses to letters being sent to the 213 property owners within the designated area.

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


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