Historic preservation board set

Members will review nominees for a local register of historic homes.

Historic preservation is in Bainbridge’s future.

A new, seven-member Bainbridge Island Historic Preservation Commission will promote the retention of older homes and structures through tax breaks and education.

“History is what makes a place special,” said Sarah Lee, commission chair. “It makes you feel attached to, or part of what was there before.”

The group met for the first time on Tuesday. Member Linda Costello, an architect frequently involved with historic preservation efforts, says commissioners were unanimous in their goal.

“We all agreed that we wanted to be positive,” Costello said. “A lot of people are afraid of ‘preservation,’ thinking they will be fined, penalized or guilt-tripped. I hope (homeowners) will see the register as a benefit.”

Appointment of the commission follows the City Council’s adoption of a historic preservation ordinance in January. Under that ordinance, owners of structures on a local register are eligible for 10-year tax breaks for substantive restoration work on the structure or site, as long as they maintain the structure according to state standards for historic properties.

Placement on the register requires the homeowner’s consent. The building must be physically intact and at least 50 years old, unless it has exceptional importance. In addition, it must be associated with persons or events in island history; represent a distinctive architectural style; or be a unique example of architecture or design.

The commission will review applications for the register, for major renovation or demolition of registered properties, and for special tax valuations.

The ordinance and commission help prepare the way for the city to become a Certified Local Government. That status, granted through the state’s Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, is required for the city to apply for state grants and approve special tax valuations.

Several members of the new commission have professional experience in architecture, archaeology, curating and historic preservation; others have worked with the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, own buildings on the National Register, or have written books on island history.

The initial group will have three members for two years, two for three years and two for four years. Thereafter, the uncompensated members will serve three-year terms.

The commission will maintain an inventory of local historical sites, a task previously done by volunteers of the Bainbridge Island Historical Society.

Distinct from the official register, the inventory is a list of all old properties which may have historic significance.

“(The inventory) is a resource for anyone interested in history,” said David Thorne, who drafted the Historic Preservation Ordinance and is now a BIHS board member. “We’re lucky the historical society has already done it.”

Costello says the group wants to “try to be innovative and fun, and involve Bainbridge Island education, emphasizing the involvement of young people, whether as a homeowner or not.”

“A lot of people who move here don’t understand the island’s historical significance,” Lee said, “but once people understand it, they feel like they own it and they want to preserve it, too.”

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