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Study Examines Historic Preservation In Saratoga Springs

A new study details the impact of historic preservation in a city booming with new development.

Saratoga Springs is known for its famous flat track, walkable downtown, and historic architecture. And the Spa City has made its history a focus as the city brings in new development, with several newer buildings constructed to match surrounding structures, blending old charm with new style.

Washington, D.C.-based Place Economics has released a study of Saratoga’s historic preservation efforts. With a population of under 30,000, it’s the smallest city the firm has studied.

But Principal Donovan Rypkema says he hasn’t seen many other places of its size quite like it.

“It really is a stellar national example of the long-term commitment to historic preservation,” said Rypkema.

The city used state grant funding and worked with the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation to hire Place Economics for the study.

The study examined past and present property values of structures both in and out of its historic designated districts. The city has eight separate historic districts that reflect its past. But that makes up only a small portion of the city’s land area.

“Only about 6 percent of the land area of the city is in an historic district, but has really set the pattern and the quality and the attractiveness of Saratoga Springs,” said Rypkema.

Eleven percent of the city’s population lives within that 6 percent.

The average home value within the historic districts is around $800,000, while outside the districts is around $460,000. The study also breaks down values by square footage and acreage.

Brad Birge, the city’s Administrator of Planning & Economic Development, says the information about the impact of historic preservation is valuable.

“From an economic basis, that’s a really important bit of information for investors to have throughout, and for city government to recognize that this is important,” said Birge.

The city oversees construction through its land-use boards. Residents on the city’s Design Review Commission have jurisdiction to review exterior changes to existing buildings and new construction.

Samantha Bosshart, Executive Director of the non-profit Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, says that level of regulation is worth recognizing.

“Sometimes people think that when a property has more regulation it would be potentially valued less, but that is definitely not the case here in Saratoga,” said Bosshart.

Bosshart says she hopes other communities will pay attention to the numbers outlined in the recent report.

“This hopefully will encourage other small cities to embrace preservation as a tool to revitalize their towns, and that we as Saratoga, can serve as a model to other communities across the state,” said Bosshart.

What’s being constructed today will also impact decisions made in the future.

Birge says as the city moves forward, it faces a challenge — to find a balance with regard to new construction and recognizing its history. And that is not tied to one era.

“The city is looking not to replicate Victoriana, Victorian homes, but rather to have a good sense of construction, and good sense of design, so that in 80 to 100 years in the future, people will bale to look back this time period and say ‘not only do they have historic homes from the Victorian period, but they also have turn-of-the-century homes that are worthy of respect and worthy of continued investment as well,’” said Birge.

For more information visit: http://www.placeeconomics.com/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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