The Camden Planning Board will hold a public informational meeting Wednesday, July 6 to discuss changes to a proposal to create a historic preservation ordinance.

“Time lines were not defined in the previous version,” said Town Planner Stephen Wilson. He said the group creating the ordinance decided to take another look at the time line and “whittle it down.”

Wilson said the new version sets a review time line that aims to move a little bit faster than planning board review.

In addition, the new version responds to complaints that the ordinance would allow the town to tell a building owner in the downtown district what colors or textures could be used on the outside of buildings by deleting those two words from all such references.

In the section on visual compatibility features, the new ordinance reads, in part, as follows:

“The relationship of materials, of the facade of a building shall be visually compatible with that of the predominant materials used in the buildings to which it is visually related.”

Last November, voters supported giving the planning board the opportunity to give an advisory opinion on any renovations in the historic district.

“That would not change,” said Wilson. “The difference would be that, in the Great Fire District, there would be a mandatory compliance process through the Historic Preservation Commission.”

The Historic Downtown Fire District is the area that burned during a devastating 1892 fire, destroying 40 buildings and 60 businesses. Also affected by the proposed ordinance would be Curtis Island, town-owned properties in other historic districts and other privately owned historic properties as requested by owners.

Wilson said the planning board’s existing advisory role is voluntary and doesn’t give the board the ability to protect buildings and sites that are of historic value. He said the new ordinance would make it possible to preserve such properties without imposing undue costs or time constraints on building owners.

The proposed ordinance defines historic districts, sites and landmarks and calls for the creation of a Camden Historic Preservation Commission. That commission, comprising five members and two alternates, would include the Historic Resources Committee, which has been in existence since 1992 and is currently working to preserve historic artifacts in Camden.

Under the proposed ordinance, the commission would review building projects in historic districts, or relating to historic sites and landmarks, and decide whether to issue a certificate of compliance, referred to in previous versions of the proposal as a certificate of appropriateness. For properties that fall under protection, no building permits would be issued by the town, and no work other than emergency repairs commence on them, until a certificate of compliance is issued. That certificate would apply only to the exterior of a building, and would not be required for general maintenance and repair.

The commission would also review new construction in the historic districts. Any such building is to 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 states.

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.

According to Chris Glass, a Camden architect who served on the planning board’s subcommittee to help draft the ordinance, the Maine and federal tax credits are only available to income producing properties that pay taxes and therefore can get credits against those taxes.

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 go to the CLG Program.

On June 23, the Appropriations Committee in the Maine Legislature voted to extend the sunset on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit for 10 years, from 2013 to 2023. Since 2008, 26 privately developed historic commercial projects investing more than $138 million have been completed or initiated in Maine using this tax credit.

Glass said projects had to be certified by the commission before receiving the credits.

“That involves submitting plans, building the project, and having the built project certified as conforming to the plans as submitted,” he wrote in a June 27 email message. “Then the project has to be in service for at least five years, as the tax credit is paid out in installments.”

“Needless to say, such a project is not entered into lightly,” said Glass. “The thing that makes it especially valuable, however, is that the credit is transferable and refundable, meaning the amount of the credit can be paid to whoever the project owner designates, and it can be paid in cash rather than reduced tax liability. That enables it to be syndicated to investors and banks who partner with the developer.”

Camden property owner David Dickie is opposed to the ordinance. Dickie and his family own the H and C blocks downtown.

“It’s a horrible document and will be economically devastating for any building in the downtown,” he said.

Dickie said June 28 that the ordinance would give too much control to the town. He said he had not seen the most recent changes to the document. He said the buildings on the fire district are not historic in nature, and that he and other downtown property owners work hard to keep up the appearance of their buildings, and that he used old photographs when renovating his buildings.

“I don’t think there is any committee that should have more power than the planning board,” said Dickie. Citing a reference to trees of a size larger than those in the fire district, he said this was only the beginning of an expansion of such districts.

He said waiting 60 days for approval to change or demolish a building created an undue hardship.

“When do the people get a chance to vote on this?” he asked.

The public hearing on Camden’s proposed historic preservation ordinance will take place Wednesday, July 6 at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. The planning board is also seeking public comments on the ordinance and has not voted either way on its recommendation to the Select Board. That vote will come later in the process, as the November date for a public vote approaches.

A copy of the current version of the proposed Article XIII can be found on the town’s website at camdenmaine.gov or by emailing Town Planner Stephen Wilson at swilson@camdenmaine.gov.

For more information, call the Camden Town Office at 236-3353.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.