Historic preservation law passes first City Council vote

By Stephen Betts | Sep 14, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — A proposed city law to preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods has received preliminary approval.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance at the Wednesday, Sept. 12, meeting. A formal public hearing and final vote are scheduled for Oct. 10.

Councilor Adam Ackor, who sponsored the ordinance, said it is not onerous nor punitive, but instead provides education and resources to property owners on how they can preserve their historic architecture.

"This celebrates fantastic architecture," Ackor said.

The law would create a seven-member Historic Preservation Commission nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The commission would first develop a manual to guide its work with property owners over proposed alterations, additions or demolition of local landmarks or buildings within a designated historic district.

Those designations can be recommended by various groups or individuals and would be voted on by the City Council.

The proposed ordinance goes into detail on the criteria for designation and the application process.

If the owner of a landmark objects, or if 50 percent or more of the property owners in a proposed historic district object to the designation, the commission will discontinue the designation process.

Once a property or district had been designated as historic, the property owner would be required to apply for a review by the commission whenever the owner wanted to make a major alteration to the exterior. New construction within a historic district and demolition of a landmark or a home within a historic district would also be reviewed by the commission.

Whenever a property owner wanted to demolish a landmark or building within a historic district, there would be a requirement that there be an effort for 180 days to find a buyer who would preserve the structure.

There would be a financial incentive for owners who made approved exterior improvements to historic properties. The assessed valuation of the property -- for municipal property tax purposes -- would not increase for one to five years because of the work, depending on the length of time set by the council in any ordinance.

Property owners could reject recommendations of the commission concerning alterations, but they would have to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the recommendations. Property owners or contractors who performed work without a review by the commission and without signing off on any recommendations would be subject to a $500 fine.

Rockland Historical Society Curator Ann Morris said the organization held a public meeting in May and a group was formed to develop a specific ordinance to present to the City Council. The proposal comes from a review of ordinances in Bangor, Lewiston and Castine.

The Rockland proposal is a softer, less restrictive version of the approach of those other communities, Morris said at a Sept. 3 meeting.

There are currently a few neighborhoods and several buildings in Rockland already on the National Register of Historic Places. The ordinance still would require the City Council to designate those areas as historic for the regulations to apply to those properties and neighborhoods.

The Rockland Residential Historic District is bounded by Union Street on the east, Masonic Street on the south, Broadway on the west, and the northern side of Talbot Avenue to the north.

The Rockland Main Street Historic District includes 27 buildings downtown.

Other properties on the National Register of Historic Places include the Farnsworth House at 23 Elm St.; the Rankin Block; the railroad station; the General Davis Tillson House at 157 Talbot Ave.; the Rockland Breakwater; the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse; the railroad turntable and engine house; the Strand Theatre; and the Timothy Williams House on Old County Road.

Councilor Ed Glaser said his only concern is that in the future, councilors could add restrictions, such as what colors a house could be painted. Ackor said that was not the intent of the proposal.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Sep 17, 2018 07:58

Mss Morrison you are so correct.  Partially the reason I felt it necessary to attend last Wednesdays meeting and to voice my concern on this very subject. I was somewhat comforted by the fact there seems to be no "intent" to place teeth into this ordinance , STILL, be aware whenever you invite the elephant into the room.



Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Sep 14, 2018 10:27

 

Whenever you hear the words "wasn't our intent..." be very nervous.  Once a committee feels they have a purpose and a mandate AND they can change the rules as they feel they know what's best for you....look out.  Imagine being unable to afford getting your "historical" house painted so you decide to go with vinyl siding.  Beware of anyone that is appointed and not elected because there is no recourse.  Steve



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