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A New Approach to Historic Buildings

The nonprofit Falmouth Preservation Alliance looks to purchase and redevelop significant sites.

By Sean F. Driscoll 
CAPE COD TIMES

Falmouth, MA – A new nonprofit aims to maintain Falmouth’s history by encouraging smart redevelopment of historic properties that might otherwise be demolished.

The Falmouth Preservation Alliance was born after a series of losses and near-misses across town. Several people had been considering ways to intervene before historic properties were sold to developers; eventually, they joined forces to form the alliance, according to Barbara Weyand, the group’s president.

Just as a land trust preserves open space from development, the Falmouth Preservation Alliance would buy properties of historic significance before they face a wrecking ball.

But unlike a land trust, the properties wouldn’t be kept untouched for all time, Weyand said.

“We are not developing a series of historical museums,” she said. “That is not the goal.”

Instead, the alliance wants to encourage historically appropriate ways for developers to restore and reuse buildings, she said. The goal would be to have properties in the trust back in the private sector.

“We are trying to be business friendly,” she said. “We view historical preservation as being directly related to business, in that we can provide business opportunities for a myriad of categories that could be involved in the restoration. If we preserve the character of the town, we can improve the economy of the town.”

The most recent of Falmouth’s historic preservation crises was the Elm Arch Inn, one of the oldest surviving inns on the Cape.

The five-bay, two-and-a-half story wood frame structure was built about 1810 in the style of Colonial and early Federal periods and was the home of a Falmouth sea captain, Silas Jones. In 1911, it was turned into an inn. Its historical significance stems from the growth of Falmouth’s tourism economy, according to Preservation Massachusetts, a statewide nonprofit that promotes historic building and landscape preservation.

The inn’s license expired in April and a development company, Wald Management, submitted plans to the town to tear down the 24,000-square-foot structure and build three duplex condominium units in its place.

The plan was met with ferocious opposition from residents who feared that the loss would further erode Falmouth’s historic character. Wald Management eventually withdrew its application, after the Falmouth Historical Commission referred the matter to the Cape Cod Commission, which has the power to review projects that affect historic preservation.

In August, the commission voted to accept the referral, which would have delayed Wald’s plans for months.

Preservation Massachusetts recently put the Elm Arch Inn on its Most Endangered Historic Resources list, which it has maintained since 1993 to highlight endangered historic properties across the state.

The Falmouth Preservation Alliance isn’t close to making its first purchase but Weyand said that rather than wait until a chunk of fundraising had been done, the group’s leaders wanted to go public and start building name recognition. Its first projects will be educational, and could include letting owners of historic homes know about programs to help with renovations.

“It will be a long process of increasing education and involvement,” Weyand said. “We’re trying to ease into the town fabric."