Bath’s Historic Landmarks Commission gets solid footing after a dormant year

by Trish Rudder

It has taken more than one year for the Bath Town Council to have a functioning Historic Landmarks Commission whose job is to protect and preserve the town’s historic structures.

At a meeting on October 27, the commission members got some points from Meredith Dreistadt, Certified Local Government (CLG) Coordinator with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

She had said she would come to Berkeley Springs to give a presentation on using the procedures and guidelines once the commission was reformed.

To be in good standing with the state, the HLC must have five members—“sometimes there are more,” Dristadt said.

The commission must meet four times a year and file an annual report.

Dreistadt said the commission was “in good standing at this time.”

Her presentation included the guidelines and procedures the HLC needs to apply to be successful in protecting and preserving the historic structures in the Town of Bath.

In May 2021, after the town council voted against the HLC’s request to allow property owners to have a vote in creating a smaller historic district, all but two of the nine-member landmarks commission resigned.

The Certificates of Appropriateness (COA) program that the HLC requested for structures in the district was denied by the town council.

There was no movement towards reestablishing a commission until an ordinance was passed by the council on August 16, 2022 that changed the number of members to be appointed from nine to five along with new residency requirements.  On September 6, the last two of the five members were approved by the council.

In the meeting with Dreistadt, member, Ryan Rebant, said he has been the commission’s treasurer for 10 years. Member Zachary Salman is currently studying for his M.S. degree in historic preservation in Vermont. Salman attends the meetings through Zoom.

Rebant said the reformed commission is “trying to get our feet back on the ground.”

Salman said since the certificate of appropriateness option failed to get approval from the town council, he said the landmarks commission will need guidance from SHPO.

He said he has learned some better approaches from his preservation law studies that would benefit the town. He said his professor was active in establishing a HLC and has been a great source of information.

Commission members asked that the town post notices of  any building or property improvements of $1,000 or more in the town limits. Those notices now have to be filed with the Town Clerk’s office. Salman said posting those notices would be “a great step forward” for the HLC.

Town Recorder Susan Webster and chair of the historic Berkeley Springs Train Depot attended the meeting and has been working with Dreistadt. Webster said she attended the two earlier HLC meetings.

Webster said she is not the town committee chair but has been shepherding the committee to help it reestablish itself.

When asked what the steps are to get the reestablished commission moving forward, Dreistadt said the commission needs to identify what the HLC members want to do and identify what the community wants.

Webster said that she wants the Landmarks Commission to “get involved with the Depot.”

The train depot has been undergoing restoration and rehabilitation under the SHPO guidelines. Funding has been an issue and Webster is hopeful grants could be available through the Landmarks Commission, she said last week.

According to one of the handouts Dreistadt gave, “States receive annual appropriations from the Historic Preservation Fund and are required to give at least 10% of their funding to CLGs (Certified Local Governments) as subgrants…” that would fund a wide variety of projects including rehabilitation work.

Dreistadt said in her presentation that a key commitment to a certified local government is to focus on preserving, protecting, identifying and increasing awareness of cultural heritage and to facilitate public participation in historic preservation.

“We are getting our commission on the right track to move forward,” Rebant said after the meeting with Dreistadt.

At the November 1 Town of Bath council meeting, Landmarks member John Mason gave an update to the council. He said the members are to decide what the next steps will be and they are looking for direction from the community and the council.

Webster reiterated that she wants help with the Depot from the Historic Landmarks Commission.  She said other projects have to do with education of people.

She said the council was not really interested in “restrictions on property; it was not well taken in the community.”

The next Historic Landmarks Commission meeting is on Thursday, November 17 at 2 p.m. at Bath Town Hall.