Bath Planning Board may revise historic district standards

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BATH — The Planning Board intends to review standards in the city’s Historic District Overlay Zone, to make them more objective and less demanding on newer buildings.

The board took a trolley tour through the zone on Tuesday, guided by member Robin Haynes. The tour, much of which covered Washington Street, included a variety of classic home styles, such as Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne.

Haynes said she hoped the tour would give board members a new way of looking at buildings, and thinking about their historic character as form and details, not just as old buildings.

She said she wanted the tour to emphasize what the historic character of a building is, and how that character is determined. The character is in a sense the personality of a structure, and the various traits that create that personality, she said.

Haynes noted that a structure’s architecture tells much about building design fashions, as well as changes in technology and cultural desires through American history.

City Planner Jim Upham said “we’re trying to get the (historic district) standards to be more objective, so that there’s less interpretation on the part of the Planning Board, as well as on the part of landowners” who are applying to make a change to a building.

One way to do that would be to include illustrations in the city’s ordinance, leaving less room for interpretation of language.

“The historic resource of this community is important,” Upham said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to grasp why is it that the city regulates what people can do, when they build a deck or change windows, and so forth. But the analogy I use (is), if a community’s economic vitality was based on the alewive fishery, the community would probably do everything it could to maintain a healthy fishery.

“Well, part of (Bath’s) economy … is based on the historic resource,” he continued. “… It would be foolhardy to allow people to mess that up. And so that’s a reason why we need to be regulating what goes on in this district.”

He added that the standards might be changed for properties that are newer and not historic, but are located in the zone.

“Maybe we don’t need to regulate what people do with a home in that district that was built in 1970 or 1980,” Upham said. “It’s not historic, and maybe we need to have an ordinance that treats real historic properties one way, and less historic properties in a different way, and very unhistoric properties not at all.”

Upham said he also hopes that the Planning Board will look into including historic properties not in the zone in the historic district review process.

“That’s not uncommon,” he said. “I think Portland does a lot of that. They probably have a district, but they also have these individual properties that are extremely important that they would hate to lose.”

Upham said the next step in the review process would be for the Planning Board to hold one of its pre-meeting workshops on the matter.

The historic district runs from Leeman Highway north to Beacon and Bowery streets, east to the Kennebec River and west to High Street.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements


This Queen Anne-style house at 1111 Washington St., Bath, was built in 1883 and once belonged to Samuel S. Sewall. It is one of many architectural treasures in the city’s Historic District Overlay Zone and was part of the Planning Board’s Tuesday trolley tour of historic homes.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.