The sign greeting drivers on Main Street reads, “Welcome to the Historic Village of Williamsville / Founded 1800,” over an image of the Williamsville Water Mill.
It’s clear Williamsville embraces its history, even as decades of redevelopment and rising traffic have reshaped the Main Street corridor.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area around the mill, which sits near picturesque Glen Falls and was built by the village’s namesake more than 200 years ago.
Yet a proposal to set up a water mill historic district sparked pushback from some village residents and business owners.
The months-long debate, as is often the case in Williamsville, centered on the tension between encouraging investment in the village without sacrificing its historic identity.
The Village Board recently approved the inclusion of 13 commercial properties in the new district.
“This is a very important tool for our community to use to maintain the character of the village,” said Kate Waterman-Kulpa, an architect who chairs the village Historic Preservation Commission.
Critics say the creation of the district ignored property owners’ views and the decision on which properties to include seemed arbitrary.
“I felt that the criteria for such a designation was not being applied equally and not transparently enough,” said Dave Sherman, a longtime Amherst town historian and Amherst Bee editor who also served as Williamsville’s deputy mayor.
Waterman-Kulpa said officials for nearly two decades have studied whether to establish a village historic district, with the water mill as a focal point, so the idea is nothing new.
The first building at the water mill site, off Main Street along East Spring Street and Ellicott Creek, was constructed by Jonas Williams in 1811.
By 2005, the village government stepped in to rescue the mill from foreclosure and possible demolition.
The property now is owned by Howard and Tara Cadmus, owners of Sweet Jenny’s, who sell ice cream, chocolates and comic books from the main building and have tenants in two other buildings.
The Cadmuses supported the proposal, introduced by Waterman-Kulpa at the Aug. 23 Historic Preservation Commission meeting, to set up a historic district in the mill area.
“Historic designation is designed to help protect the investments of owners and residents from poorly planned development that undermines property values. It provides incentive, or at least it did for me, knowing our significant investment is protected over time,” Tara Cadmus wrote later to the Village Board.
The district as proposed ran along and to the north of Main Street, from Rock Street east to the pedestrian entrance to Glen Park. The district, focusing on construction between 1811 and 1949, had 13 properties: one on Rock, five on East Spring and seven on Main.
The list included the Eagle House restaurant, Moor Pat tavern, Share Kitchen & Bar Room and the Center for Plastic Surgery. Waterman-Kulpa said 10 of the 13 meet the criteria for local landmark designation.
“There’s such a cluster of historic buildings in the area. It has the oldest commercial buildings in the village. It made great sense to start there,” she said.