By LIZ BUTTON
The city’s Landmarks Committee has taken a substantive step toward changing the city code to provide a tax incentive for owners of historic properties to renovate and restore their buildings instead of tearing them down and rebuilding.
The committee, which interfaces with the City Council to recommend the designation and preservation of historic districts and sites, has drafted a local law for the city to adopt that would make owners of historic properties tax breaks subject to the state’s “Ithaca bill.”
The Ithaca bill, or the New York State Historic Real Property Tax Exemption, is a tax credit abatement enacted in 1997 as part of the state’s Real Property Tax Law, which provides the authority for municipalities to adopt laws providing for tax exemptions.
Providing tax breaks for owners of historic properties is an initiative that has been discussed in Rye in recent years as a potential safeguard for the city’s historic character by the committee, which includes longtime Rye residents Maurio Sax and Jack Zahringer.
But, the question remained what would classify a historic structure to fit the criteria necessary for tax breaks.
City Attorney Kristen Wilson worked with City Planner Christian Miller to pick a cut-off date of 1904, for when the Village of Rye was formed, as to which houses qualify for the tax break. The tax incentives would be awarded to property owners for making structural alterations that contribute toward preserving their properties’ historic character.
The Village of Rye became the City of Rye in 1942.
Today, Rye has 288 homes that were built in 1904 or before, but, since the age of some of these houses is unknown or unrecorded, this figure does not necessarily represent an accurate total of historic dwellings.
The age of commercial buildings also does not appear in the city’s database.
“Instead of using 100 years since, every year, more and more houses would qualify, we picked 1904, which I believe is when [the Village of] Rye first existed. We thought that was significant,” Wilson said.
The city attorney added that this tax break only concerns the city tax, not school or county taxes.
The proposed local law would allow the property owner to seek an exemption for any increase in assessed value as a result of rehabilitation and/or alteration to a historic structure; the percent tax exemption decreases over a ten-year period, starting with a 100 percent exemption for the first five years after the application is submitted. After that, this exemption would decrease by 20 percent each year until the 10 years are up.
According to the law, owners would have to fill out an application for a tax break, which they would provide to the city assessor.
Applicants would be required to list the type of reconstructive or preservative work done on the property, the cost of the work, a defense of how the alteration accomplishes the purposes of historic preservation as well as evidence that the property has been designated a landmark or part of a historic district.
In the past, the Landmarks Committee and the Rye Chamber of Commerce have looked into turning a portion of downtown Rye into an historic business district.
Councilwoman and landmarks committee liaison Laura Brett, a Republican, said, whether or not people take advantage of these tax incentives, it is a good idea “to give people pride in the history of where they live. It is something that enhances their enjoyment of where they live.”
Brett said the Landmarks Committee proposal is especially timely at a time when the city is considering an amendment to the city code, that would reduce the square footage of houses, amid concerns of overdevelopment, in an effort to maintain the character of Rye.
The City Council set a public hearing for its next meeting scheduled for Nov. 20 to further discuss adding this new article to the city code.