by Trish Rudder
The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History’s Deputy State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) notified the Town of Bath that it has 120 days (February 13, 2024) to implement improvements to the town’s Certified Local Government (CLG) program or its status could be revoked.
The October 16 letter from Susan M. Pierce, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer to the Bath Town Council members said that 33 property owners and residents within the Town of Bath Historic District had concerns over the local government’s lack of preservation efforts and commitment to preserving historic resources. The letter can be read here:October 16 SHPO letter to Town of Bath
The letter outlined the property owners and residents concerns and offered the town suggestions and a timeframe to keep from losing its CLG status.
The Morgan Messenger emailed the council members on Friday, October 27 to learn if they received the letter. By press time on Monday, October 30, Councilman Tom Hall was the only one who confirmed that he had received the letter.
Mayor Scott Merki said in a phone call on Monday, November 6 that he could not comment on the letter. He said they are working on getting information together.
There was no mention of receiving the SHPO letter in the November 7 council meeting other than Merki saying to Town Recorder Susan Webster that the council needs to “get on that” and get some things together when Merki got to the “Landmarks” item on the meeting agenda.
The November 21 council meeting has nothing listed in the draft agenda regarding the SHPO letter, and on Monday, November 20, Merki said he had no comment at this time, but “we’re still working on it.”
The highlights of the letter:
The SHPO letter states that between April and June 2023, the SHPO office was contacted by 33 property owners and residents within the Town of Bath Historic District with the following concerns:
“- New development not taking into account historic resources; – No process for input from the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) about the historic resources in the district and how they are modified or demolished;
– The existing HLC being unable to promote and protect resources due to a lack of serious engagement from the Town Council;
– Concern over the integrity of the historic district and the long-term effects of resource loss, which is the main factor in removal of a district from the National Register of Historic Places;
– Concern that removal of the district from the National Register would disqualify property owners from financial incentives from our [SHPO] office and the National Park Service.”
The letter states that the Town of Bath became a Certified Local Government (CLG) under the federal and state government program in 2006.
“That status can only be held by a municipality that commits to the tenets of historic preservation which provide an economic boost for the community, affords for thoughtful new growth, and protects and promotes the historic resources that contribute to the National Register of Historic Places and make each community unique. This formal, legal commitment from your local government to historic preservation affords the town the status of being a federally recognized CLG….”
“The concerns raised by these members of the community raise concerns from our office about the Town’s commitment to the CLG program.”
Some of the suggestions to understand the concerns and “actively explore avenues to alleviate these concerns,” include: “implementing optional design review by the HLC;
enacting a demolition review ordinance;
establishing a local historic district with more consistent updates to your own register;
significant promotion of financial incentives for historic preservation that are offered to historic buildings;
creation of design guidelines;
or other routes that may help strengthen, protect, and promote the historic resources in your community.”
An offer of help
Ms. Pierce said the office is available to help facilitate discussion and map out a plan and suggested the town council reach out to Meredith Dreistadt, CLG Coordinator to coordinate the next steps.
An email from this reporter was sent to the council members on Friday, November 17 asking for any of their comments about the letter from the state.
On Monday, November 20, Merki said in a telephone call that he has no comment at this time. At press time, no other member of the council had responded to the request for comment.