By Sarah Kautz, Preservation Director, Preservation Long Island. Published January 2019
The Old Huntington Firehouse at 235 Main Street is an excellent example of the town’s early 20th-century civic architecture. Located adjacent to the Old Town Hall Historic District, this remarkable structure has served the community for over 100 years. Unfortunately, town officials are now considering whether or not to approve a plan to demolish the historic firehouse, making way for intensive redevelopment of 235 Main Street and the surrounding properties along Main Street, Gerard Street, and Stewart Avenue. Is this great civic building worthy of demolition or recognition?
Noting the significant history and character of 235 Main Street, the New York State Historic Preservation Office determined the property eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 2017. Huntington’s Historic Preservation Commission likewise recommended Old Huntington Firehouse for designation as a town landmark in 2016. However, the Town Board declined to consider the commission’s recommendation, leaving the property’s landmark status undecided. Further consideration of applications involving the proposed project should, accordingly, be postponed until the Town Board has an opportunity to decisively vote on whether or not to designate Old Huntington Firehouse as a town landmark.
In addition to the loss of Old Huntington Firehouse, Preservation Long Island is concerned about negative impacts to the adjacent Old Town Hall Historic District (the District), a locally designated historic district also listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. As currently proposed, the project appears out-of-scale and incompatible with nearby existing sites within the District, including the Old Town Hall, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building, and Old Burial Hill Cemetery. Due to the proximity of designated historic structures and important memorial landscapes, insensitive redevelopment within the project area may severely diminish the setting and viewsheds protected by the District.
Recognizing the historical value Old Huntington Firehouse in no way precludes the possibility of rehabilitating the structure for new uses. Should the Town Board vote to designate the property as a town landmark, the owners could seek a partial historic property tax exemption, as provided by Section 178-24 of the Town Code. If listed on the NRHP, the property owners may also be eligible for the federal historic tax credit program. Such financial incentives are intended to support the adaptive reuse of historic commercial structures like Old Huntington Firehouse while achieving a reasonable return for owners and investors.
Redevelopment of the property need not destroy another significant historic building in downtown Huntington (e.g., Hotel Huntington, a.k.a. the Aboff Building, demolished at Fairview Street and New York Avenue in 2012 to construct a new TD Bank branch). Innovative design and thoughtful planning have helped preserve historic structures elsewhere on Long Island, fostering a powerful sense of place that promotes interest and investment in the surrounding community. Moreover, adaptive reuse of existing buildings is an environmentally sustainable option for downtown revitalization that reduces landfill waste, stimulates the local economy, and consumes less energy and resources than demolition and new construction. Studies by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Older, Smaller, Better project have also shown better economic and livability outcomes in places with smaller, mixed-age buildings. Based on these findings, mixed-use redevelopment projects in Huntington are likely to be more successful if older buildings like the firehouse are reused alongside appropriate new construction.
Simply put, historic structures like the Old Huntington Firehouse can play a vital role in successful Main Street redevelopment. We believe it is possible to achieve the goals of redevelopment without destroying Huntington’s historic places.
The proposal to demolish Old Huntington Firehouse is now being reviewed by the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Residents may submit comments regarding the proposal to the Board at:
Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Huntington
100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743
E-mail: [email protected]
If you’d like to voice your support for the designation of Old Huntington Firehouse as a Town landmark, Huntington residents should direct their comments to:
Huntington Historic Preservation Commission
228 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743
Phone: (631) 351-3244
Fax: (631) 351-3245
Email: [email protected]