The Masonic Hall

The masonic hall, a designated local landmark in downtown Stoughton.

A proposal to label Stoughton’s entire downtown as a historic district would give the Landmarks Commission review authority of the look and style of the buildings from Fifth Street to the Yahara River.

The locally designated historic district is a mechanism to preserve the character of historic buildings. It means an extra layer of protection for downtown buildings, switching authorization for exterior changes away from the Planning Commission.

Landmarks Commission chair Peggy Veregin alluded to the controversial razing of the Kittleson building last year to explain her interest in the change.

“There is nothing to prevent demolitions of our historic Main Street, and considering the fact that we continue to have demolition on Main Street – this problem is real,” she told the Hub in an email.

If property owners want to change the color of their facade, replace windows, add signage or complete structural additions, they would have to go through an approval process, landmarks commission member and City of Stoughton zoning administrator Michael Stacey told the Hub.

The designation would not affect the interior of the building, nor will it require property owners to change existing exteriors.

There is already a similar layer of approval process in place on the 67 properties. The historic district would replace the downtown design overlay zoning district implemented in 2009.

The change, Stacey said, is who has recommendation authority and oversight for exterior changes. With the design overlay district, it is the Planning Commission, with the historic district it would be the Landmarks Commission.

The Landmarks Commission plans to hold a meeting for property owners to answer questions on the proposal Oct. 22. An additional public meeting Nov. 6 is planned to get input from community members.

The time and location of both meetings is expected to be set during the Thursday, Oct. 10 landmarks commission meeting. The commission hired The Lakota Group, a historic preservation consulting firm, to help guide those meetings.

Stacey said it is important that most property owners are on board with the designation, because the two groups must work together to ensure historical preservation of the building; with new exterior projects but also with ongoing maintenance.

He said some owners might feel that the designation would mean the Landmarks Commission is taking control of the building and that the standards will cost more money, but that’s not the case.

“What they don’t realize is that Plan Commission already has that authority,” Stacey said. “They just haven’t brought anything forward (for exterior changes).”

If the proposal passes, the landmarks commission would like to work with property owners to help them receive local, state and national grants designated for historical projects, he said.

Stacey noted there is a $5,000 mini-grant available to most properties in the existing design district. The money would be available for exterior project updates through the Landmarks Commission and for most properties in the historic district.

After the Oct. 22 and Nov. 6 meetings on the proposed LDHD, the Landmarks Commission plans to make a recommendation to the Common Council, which will have the final decision.

If the council votes in favor of the historic district, a survey will be done of the 67 buildings to see if they meet the standards for historic places set by the U.S. Department of the Interior, a federal agency for the management and conservation of federal land and natural resources.

Buildings that do not meet those standards would be considered “non conforming,” meaning the historical structure has been changed so much it can not be considered historically significant.

The Landmarks Commission also would write new standards, guided by the federal agency and similar to the current standards set by the Planning Commission but with more detail and more of an eye towards historic preservation.

Fourteen of those buildings already are designated as local landmarks, meaning they are already set to those federal standards.

All 67 properties are part of the Main Street Historic District. This state and national recognition is honorary, however, meaning properties do not have special requirements. However, if renovation of properties meet all the standards for the historic district, they would be able to apply for federal and state tax incentives.

Stoughton has 32 local landmarks, four historic districts, 27 Nationally Registered Historic Places and 27 State Registered Historic Places.

Many of these landmarks have overlapping designations. For example, Stoughton Public Library and the Stoughton Opera House are locally designated landmarks, part of the Main Street Historic District and listed on both the National Registration of Historic Places and State Registration of Historic Places.

Contact Mackenzie at mackenzie.krumme@wcinet.com.