Clearspeak: The monuments we destroy

Community Columnist

It may be too late to save the Comstock farmhouse, but it is not too late to save Cazenovia.

The Action Group’s ringing cri de coeur proved to be much more than mere rhetoric. The loss of that great building was a key chapter in the political struggle that culminated in the 1965 passage of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Law.

Its destruction in relation to historic preservation has been likened to the way Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit in the back of the bus galvanized civil rights laws, and how the Apollo astronauts’ stunning photographs of fragile Earth inspired the early decades of the environmental movement.

Could destruction of the Comstock farmhouse have a similar impact in Cazenovia? Could a town historic preservation ordinance rise from the rubble?

The razing of the farmhouse poses these questions because it demonstrates that merely identifying buildings of historic value is inadequate to preserve them. The Comstock farmhouse, now approved by the town planning board for demolition, is identified as a historically significant building in the state and federal registers of historic places, and in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Anybody who’s lived in Caz for a while understands that this is a conservative community that resists government regulation — and historic preservation laws are certainly a form of government regulation.

People worry that an historic preservation law would increase their costs of maintenance and renovation and make their properties less marketable. These concerns are especially trenchant in hard times.

But maybe the razing of a 180-year-old farmhouse will galvanize some change. Maybe a town historic preservation ordinance — the only sure way the Comstock farmhouse could have been saved — will now present itself as an idea whose time has come.

After all, the village already has a preservation law. See section 180-74 of the Village Zoning Code (“Historic Preservation Overlay District”).

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