WEST PITTSTON — Borough residents and business owners on Thursday learned that a section of town is eligible to qualify as a historic district and heard pros and cons of having it listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Amanda Ciampolillo, acting regional environmental officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Environmental and Historic Preservation Division, said it’s her job to help make sure FEMA’s buyouts of flood-damaged homes and businesses don’t adversely affect a town’s environmental or historic resources.
Ciampolillo said that while completing its required review in West Pittston, where hundreds of properties sustained major flood damage in September 2011, FEMA employees discovered some homes up for demolition are historic and are in an eligible historic district.
And whenever a demolition project negatively impacts a historic district, FEMA must compensate the state and municipality for loss of those resources. One way is by conducting a survey and providing all of the information collected to the community in case the community decides to pursue a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, or even a state or local historical designation, she said.
FEMA Historic Preservation Specialist Julie Weisgerber drove and walked through town, taking photos of structures. She and a team of specialists from FEMA and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission determined that a significant number of buildings have architectural styles and integrity that make them historically significant. Those styles include the Italianite, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival and Crafstmen styles.
The specialists mapped out a 151-acre district that Weisberger described as “a piece of pie with a tail.” The “rounded crust” would be Susquehanna Avenue on the east side of town. One edge of the slice would be railroad tracks to the north and the other would be Montgomery Avenue. The “tail” would encompass a section of the south side along Susquehanna Avenue from Montgomery Avenue to Atlantic Avenue.
Bryan Van Sweden, community preservation coordinator for the PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation, said historic designations help stimulate private investment in communities. He explained federal and state tax credits available for private rehab projects on income-producing properties.
Some residents said attracting investors who want to acquire historic homes and turn them into income-producing apartment houses would not be beneficial to the town. Others asked how a historic designation would benefit homeowners financially.
Van Sweden said said local laws could be passed to regulate development in a historic district. He said there are no economic benefits for homeowners.
“I don’t think there always has to be an economic advantage to doing something,” Councilman Brian Thornton said.
“I think there are a lot of people like myself (who) are interested in maintaining the historical aspects. It’s our history, it’s our past,” he said to applause.