Lee's seven-member Historical Commission is down to one, as town seeks volunteers

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LEE — And then there was one.

A flurry of resignations has left the town's seven-member Historical Commission with a single commissioner.

Now, the town is looking for volunteers to serve on the panel.

Three commissioners resigned recently, citing frustration at having to cancel some meetings over the past year due to a lack of a quorum.

"Getting [the necessary] four people to a meeting the past year has been impossible," outgoing member Caroline Young told the Select Board.

Young, Chairwoman Mary Morrissey and JoAnn Zarnock submitted their resignations last month. A fourth, Robert MacIntosh, had previously resigned for personal reasons.

Two other members have been inactive for about a year, leaving relative newcomer Susan Stone the only current active member on the commission.

The Select Board will consider a smaller commission depending on how many Lee residents come forward to serve on the municipal panel, which meets about five times a year between September and May.

"If you can find people willing to serve, they have to come to us and we will set the number then," Selectmen Chairman David Consolati told the outgoing commissioners.

Town officials noted state regulations allow a city or town to have three to seven people on a local historical commission, with the Select Board willing to consider a five-member commission. The smaller group would require a three-person quorum, rather than the current four necessary with a seven-member board.

The Massachusetts Secretary of State oversees state and local historical commissions whose primary function is communitywide historic preservation planning.

"These people are the town's official representatives for historic projects. We have a historic district and many historic buildings," said Garth Story, president of Berkshire Gateway Preservation Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the care of historic structures in town for educational uses and as performing arts venues.

The Lee Historical Commission has been instrumental in getting state and federal officials to recognize the historic significance of the vacant, 200-year-old Eagle Mill. Its letter of support helped the developer secure potential tax credits toward the estimated $70 million project, which is still in the planning stages.In recent years, the commission also endorsed the renovation and preservation of the Baird & Benton Block and Consolati Building on Main Street. The projects maintained prime retail/office space and affordable housing in the downtown.

Although not regulatory, historical commissions are a government compared to historical societies, according to the state Secretary of State's website.

A historical society is a private, nonprofit organization that often preserves local history through house museums, maintaining collections and records and hosting public programs.

Young says its important for prospective applicants to understand the commission's role in the community and to be available year-round.

"We have winter meetings," she noted, "so if you're a snowbird, it doesn't help."

Reach Dick Lindsay at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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