This is a tribute to long-time Santa Fe preservationist Sara Melton who served on the OSFA Board for many years.
Spetmeber 3, 2002 Editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican
Another Positive Step in Historic Preservation
It's just what her admirers would expect Sara Melton to do:
Melton, who has measured out her life in public meetings, sometimes as participant, always as thoughtful observer, last week signed a historic preservation easement on an old adobe home she owns just off Paseo de Peralta near Otero Street. It protects the place in perpetuity against modernization or other makeover that might ruin its historic character. The charming single-story house was started somewhere around 1860. In time, it stretched to six rooms in a row. Melton, a real-estate agent, bought it 30 years ago. Unlike many folks who've made a fortune buying old heaps on speculation, fixing them up and selling them at outlandish prices, she was in Santa Fe for the long haul. She wanted to preserve the community characteristics so many of us love.
An active member of the Old Santa Fe Association and a longtime watchdog over the City Council, the Board of County Commissioners and local planning commissions, Melton probably knows more about local-government workings than any politician. She also serves on several non-profit boards.
The house along Paseo is pure Santa Fe: flat-roofed, with canales carrying off rain and melted snow; Alice-blue Territorial-era window trim setting off the earth-colored stucco, and vines running up the walls. Melton has housed family members in it, and rented it; she has another home not far away.
The house sits in a designated historic district, so any exterior changes already would come under the eye of the H-board. But even that tough-minded body of community volunteers might not protect such a place in perpetuity, nor do its rules cover building interiors, landscaping and the like.
So that's where historic preservation easements come in. A relatively recent development, they provide assurance to owners of historic property that intrinsic values will be preserved by succeeding owners.
It's done by way of donation to a qualified organization. In this case, it's the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, which Melton for years has served as a font of community and technical knowledge. The foundation takes responsibility for the structure's preservation.
With the granting of an easement - just part of the bundle of rights comprising real-property ownership - the owner and his or her estate continue to hold the property and its financial worth. What's been given away, in this case, is the right to take away its historic worth; to turn the place into a Dairy Queen, say, or build a skyscraper on the site. Highly unlikely, but, in some cities, stranger things have happened. There are tax benefits from the value of the easement - the difference between the fair market value of the property before and after the easement restrictions are in place. Melton isn't going to take that advantage. However, it might serve as additional incentive to other Santa Feans who might consider following Melton's steps down this path of preservation. For the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, this is the third venture into historic-preservation easements; the group is grantee for the Original Trading Post on San Francisco Street downtown, and the old Irene von Horvath home on Canyon Road. We salute Sara Melton for this latest contribution to a better Santa Fe, and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation for its creative approaches to - and hard work at - historic preservation in our community.