The Town and the Village of Lake George in Warren County, NY may play a more active role in preserving historic sites and significant architecture if both adopt laws creating a joint Historic Preservation Commission.
According to Dan Barusch, the Director of Planning for both municipalities, existing laws require updating if the new Commission is to be established.
Composed of representatives from both the Town and the Village, it would be guided by people such as Margie Mannix, who serves as official historian for both the Town and the Village, and others knowledgeable about the region’s rich military and social history, Barusch said.
The Commission would conduct annual assessments of historic sites and properties and, with the consent of the owners, nominate some for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Commission would have no independent authority to prevent the destruction or alteration of historic properties.
It could, however, make informed recommendations to the Planning Boards, which could take historic significance into account when weighing applications that come before them.
“I would envision a collaborative process, in which there’s back-and-forth discussion between the Commission and the Boards and the referral of sensitive issues to one another when that’s appropriate,” said Barusch.
Once the Historic Preservation Commission is established according to criteria set forth by New York’s State Historic Preservation Office, Lake George would become eligible for grants that it has as yet lacked access to, Barusch said.
According to Barusch, Town and Village officials became acutely aware of a need for more public participation in the historic preservation process when a developer proposed razing the Royal C. Peabody estate, also known as Wikiosco, and subdividing the lakefront property.
Wikiosco’s architect was Peabody’s son Charles S. Peabody, whose firm was also responsible for Wiawaka’s boat house and the Delaware and Hudson Railroad complex at the head of the lake. Wikiosco, the boathouse and the train station are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Peabody also designed the Lake George Club. Moreover, had a Historic Preservation Commission or a rigorous archaeological review program been in place, the remains dislodged from an 18th century military cemetery at a Lake George construction site in 2019 might have slept undisturbed, said Barusch.
Several 18th century burial sites have been discovered since then, Barusch said.
“We keep coming across these sites which could be preserved if we had a historic preservation commission working hand in hand with the Planning Boards to review projects in sensitive areas,” said Barusch.
Barusch continued, “A Historic Preservation Commission is not meant to stop projects; it’s meant to identify potentially sensitive areas and the help applicants achieve their goals without disturbing important historical sites.”
Barusch said he expected the legislation creating the joint Historic Preservation Commission to be drafted this summer.
Photos, from above: Towers Hall; and original mid-century Tiki by Walt Grishkot.