Historic district wants more members

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City officials want more of downtown Littleton to join the “cool kids club.”

That’s what Andrew Graham, planning board member, called the 60 percent of property owners who have joined the optional Main Street Historic District. He’s been working with the Historic Preservation Board to identify incentives that might lure more folks in, and he says it’s time to set a threshold that would tip the district to be mandatory.

Should that happen, all properties deemed “contributing” would be subject to regulations particular to the district, as well as eligible for benefits like less-stringent parking requirements and grants for facade improvements.

It’s a notion that’s been discussed before, usually with pushback. During a discussion last March, Councilor Bruce Beckman cautioned against renewing the battle waged before the opt-in compromise was reached, when several property owners objected on the basis that mandatory inclusion trampled their rights to maintain their buildings as they saw fit.

“I don’t have to stick my hand that far into that beehive to know there are bees in there,” Beckman said at the time.

But HPB members say many who have opted in don’t think it’s fair that some can drag down the property values of all, so they surveyed business owners who haven’t joined to find out what might encourage them to do so.

“We want to raise all boats,” said Chuck Reid, HPB chair. “We believe the whole is greater than its parts.”

Suggestions include commemorative plaques, offering grants for interior work, escrowing grant funds for future use, tax rebates, waiving sewer and water fees, snow removal and architectural services.

HPB created a brochure designed to entice holdouts. It points out that the process to join was recently streamlined, and notes that MSHD sales taxes increased 69 percent since it was established in 2005, compared to 17 percent citywide.

“Uniform standards help protect and increase business investment and property value,” they wrote. “Being a part of the historic district identifies owners as understanding the vision for the future of downtown Littleton.”

Reid also addressed a request council made last March to consider expanding the district to Alamo Avenue or even beyond, saying the board is comfortable with the current boundaries. Alamo’s character is different enough, he said, that it wouldn’t make sense – it’s predominately standalone buildings as opposed to Main Street’s mostly connected properties.

Mayor Debbie Brinkman asked the board to flesh out the suggested incentives and their desire to make the district mandatory.

“I would like to see deeper study on that,” she said. “Come back with a proposal and a road map.”