An effort to produce an historic preservation ordinance for Camden has culminated in a draft document that proposes rules for protecting specific areas, including the downtown fire district and Curtis Island. Now it is time for the public to weigh in.

On Wednesday, June 1, the Camden Planning Board will hold the first in a series of public hearings on the proposed ordinance (see link below for draft ordinance), beginning at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.

“This is putting some meat to historical preservation,” said Richard Householder, a member of the board’s ad hoc working group that convened last year to write the ordinance. The group also includes planning board member Lowrie Sargent, Historical Resource Committee Chairman Kit Parker, architect Chris Glass, and Steve Wilson, Camden’s planner and code enforcement officer.

The general goal of the ordinance, said its authors, is to provide a framework by which to preserve the town’s historical integrity.

The ordinance has just begun on its path through the public process, which, if the planning board recommends and the Select Board agrees, will be placed before voters on the November ballot.

The proposed ordinance is to protect and enhance the Historic Downtown Fire District (the area that burned during the devastating 1892 fire, which destroyed 40 buildings and 60 businesses); Curtis Island, home to an historic lighthouse; town-owned properties in other historic districts; and other privately-owned historic properties as requested by owners.

“It is intended that these related regulations be used to make certain that construction or demolition of, or alterations to, buildings, structures or designed landscapes within these areas are executed in a manner that is compatible with the character of the districts,” the ordinance said.

Three years ago, a plan to site a Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown Camden drew protest from citizens, who initiated a moratorium on formula franchise businesses. That led to an effort by the town’s planning board to craft design standards that reflected, the board concluded, a community sentiment favoring protection of the town’s character, its historic features and specific architectural details. Standards were approved by voters in 2009.

The board cited Camden’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan objective to establish an historic preservation ordinance as reason to move forward with its creation, and last October, the subcommittee began drafting the document, which is available at the town office, and will be posted at the town’s website.

The proposed ordinance defines historic districts, sites and landmarks. It calls for the creation of a Camden Historic Preservation Commission, consisting of five members and two alternates, that would review all projects requiring a certificate of approval. The commission would replace the existing historic resources committee, which has been in existence since 1992.

The ordinance calls for the commission to review building projects in historic districts, or relating to historic sites and landmarks, and decide whether to issue a certificate of appropriateness. For properties that fall under protection, no building permits are to be issued by the town, or work commence on them, excepting emergency repair, until an appropriateness certificate is issued. That certificate will apply only to the exterior of a building, and is not required for general maintenance and repair.

The commission is also to review construction of new buildings in the historic districts, which are to be “generally of such design, form, proportion, mass, configuration, building material, texture, color and location on a lot as will be compatible with other buildings in the historic district and with streets and open spaces to which it is visually related and in keeping with the area,” the ordinance said.

The ordinance outlines those visibility compatibility factors.

Part of the impetus behind crafting the ordinance is to position Camden to better access federal preservation grants as administered by the Certified Local Government Program, coordinated by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The CLG Program, now 30 years old, promotes preservation at the local level, and towns with historic preservation ordinances are eligible to apply for annual grants that fund architectural and archeological surveys, restoration projects and planning assistance.

Currently, Bangor (the first in the state), York, Topsham, Kennebunk, Hampden, Lewiston, Saco, Castine, Portland and Gardiner participate in the program. Federal law dictates that 10 percent of federal appropriations for the National Register of Historic Places goes to the CLG Program.

“This is the next step to make the committee regulatory, but to limit it geographically,” said Chris Glass, a Camden architect and who served on the planning board’s subcommittee to help draft the ordinance.

Glass cited the architectural design and urban planning that rose from the ashes of the 1892 fire, the intentional building of multi-story brick buildings that front the street, their uses mixed, with residences upstairs and shops on the lower floors.

“This is the essence of what people think when coming into the town of Camden,” he said.

He said that historic preservation programs enhance property values.

“It is a great economic development tool,” said Glass.

The planning board anticipates holding more than one hearing on the proposed ordinance, and seeks public comments. It has not voted either way on its recommendation to the select board. That vote will come later in the process, as the November voting date approaches.