Historic buildings and sites help define a community’s character. In the past few years, the Heritage Task Force, which I helped to assemble, has annually awarded Heritage Plaques to sites and structures that meet the panel’s criteria for historic significance. The goal of such a program is to create public awareness of the places in New Rochelle that deserve special notice and consideration.

Several historic structures and sites are owned by the City government. Public ownership should help assure preservation, but maintenance poses a financial challenge to a cash-strapped City, and unused properties often fall into severe disrepair.

For example, a few months ago, the City determined that the bell tower of the old church next to City Hall had become structurally unsound and posed a safety hazard. Our engineers felt compelled to demolish the bell tower … a real loss. While I am persuaded that this was the right judgment, I felt uncomfortable that such a choice was made without formal consultation with preservationists.

At my urging, the City Administration is now adopting a new protocol that would, for the first time, require a process of review and consultation before any permanent work could proceed at a publicly-owned historic property. A committee made up of the Chairperson of the Historic and Landmarks Review Board, the Chairperson of the Municipal Arts Commission, and the City Historian would be consulted, and their input would be circulated to the City Council, prior to any work commencing.

This new policy is not an acceptable, long-term substitute for appropriate maintenance and stewardship of historic structures. But given the fiscal constraints facing all municipalities, we must, at least, take realistic steps that will apply appropriate sensitivity to difficult choices.