The city council is considering expanding the historic district in downtown Claremont in order to encourage people to rehabilitate and renovate more old buildings.
After a lengthy presentation by George Reagan, administrator of the Housing Awareness program at New Hampshire Housing, the council discussed ways to encourage responsible rehabilitation of Claremont’s housing stock. Claremont has a vacancy rate of about 3 percent, said Reagan, but 5 percent is “more balanced.”
Reagan explained that creating housing is not just about low-income housing, but should include appropriate housing for people who work in the manufacturing plants and don’t necessarily have a low income. “We forget that’s a mobile population, and if they don’t find what they want they’ll move somewhere else.”
The council turned to discussing a resolution to expand the historic district.
Nancy Merrill, director of economic development for the city, told the council it’s up to them whether they want to expand the historic district, which currently includes about 200 structures. People who renovate historic structures are eligible for tax credits under a property-tax relief program, RSA 79-E, that helps municipalities encourage development in designated areas. Claremont has designated the historic district downtown as that area.
Property owners qualify for the benefit by providing one of five benefits to the public and by making substantial rehabilitation, of at least 25 percent of the building’s value or $75,000, whichever is less. If approved, their assessed value will stay at the pre-purchase level for up to 5 years.
Mayor Charlene Lovett expressed a desire to save some of the old Victorian buildings, many of which have three or more bedrooms, and avoid having them purchased by absentee landlords who cut them up into tiny rental units and then don’t maintain them.
“If we could have this incentive,” said Merrill, “we could have more owner-occupied houses who would rehabilitate the buildings responsibly, and, hopefully, live in them for a long time.”
“I don’t see any negatives to casting as large a net as possible,” said councilman Nicholas Koloski. “Not everybody’s going to use [the tax credits].”
Councilman Scott Pope said he would like to see a detailed map of the area that would receive the new designation.
“Definitely some incentives are needed,” said Pope. The city has been moving on taking over tax-delinquent properties, many of which are in derelict condition. “If we’re trying to sell them, we’re out of luck. 39 Central [a property the city is in process of taking over] is probably going to be sitting on the city’s ‘let’s try to get rid of it’ list for a very long time.”
Lovett said the resolution to expand the historic district will be on the agenda for the September 12 council meeting, and asked Merrill to bring a more complete map so they can decide the boundaries of the historic district. The council, said Lovett, may well vote on the resolution that evening.
-- GLYNIS HART