Hi Otto -
-Pelham Village had some preliminary plans, which we managed to secure, which would have placed at least 7 --50x100 --housing plots on the NYW&B ROW. There was potential profit to be made by the builder and real estate agent, and a tax flow from seven new homes into the Village coffers. Against this, there was the potential cost of demolishing the Highbrook Avenue NYW&B concrete arch bridge, and reworking sewers and drainage. The argument against saving the bridge was an economic one, and we had to respond to it in economic terms.
-we prepared counter proposals, indicating that it might be more profitable, in the long run, to keep and restore the bridge and create a neighborhood park which would increase the taxable value of the adjacent neighborhood. We also costed out the added expense to the school district of seven new families, which at about 50,000 per year cost for each potential new student, would cost the school district far more than the modest increase in real estate taxes. We have an RFP in preparation for new demolition and restoration options, which the Village Board has agreed to study, with today's real costs.
-we also began to spread the idea of an innovative Highbrookhighline park, which attracted media interest and interest from park planning and historical restoration people. We pointed out that this would add to the overall attractivieness of Pelham as a suburban residential community. We approached a whole variety of historic and conservation groups. We set up a website. We have been gathering some converts.
-What role do governments play?
-The Village of Pelham has owned the land for seven decades. It has never done much useful with it. It has never formally designated the open space, which is one quarter of the remaining unbuilt land in Pelham, as a park. It is legally free to sell it or do whatever.
-There is no local historical Landmarks law or Commission which could act to protect the Bridge. The Village of Pelham has refused to apply for landmark status on the State and National Register of Historic Places. (As an example of early 20th century Reinforced concrete arch construction, it would also qualify as an Engineering landmark) Again, the Village Board is unrestrained. It can not be compelled, but it can be convinced.
-Currently there is no interest and there are no programs on the County, State and National level to take ownership of the Bridge away from the Village. There are no laws which would give them a basis to act. Even if we succeeded, over the opposition of the property owner, in having the Bridge placed on the National Register, this is no guarantee that the Bridge would be preserved. If the owner had no use for it, after a few public hearings, it could still be demolished. Remember Cos Cob.
-So we had to win in the most democratic way, by persuading a majority of the citizens and a majority of their elected officials, that there was a better way, that preservation would make more fiscal, cultural and social sense than demolition. No one thought it would be easy. But that's no excuse to do nothing.
-If you want to save your own local surviving railroad sites, there is a lesson in this. You need to organize locally. You need to do lots of research and homework, so you can argue with the real estate people, business people and lawyers You need to raise money. Complaints and wishful expressions won't do it. You have to wage a campaign and win a battle.
-in Pelham, we're fighting to preserve our railroad heritage. You should fight for yours.