Portland board moving forward on India Street historic district

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PORTLAND — A smaller-than-originally planned India Street Historic District is the preferred choice for the city Historic Preservation Board.

City Historic Preservation Manager Deb Andrews on Monday said she will prepare a revised district map for consideration by the board when it meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The proposed district would still encompass historic sites noted in a report on the neighborhood authored by Julie Larry and Gabrielle Daniello of city-based TTL Architects, including the Abyssinian Meeting House, North School and the former Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue.

“We will focus more on the commercial corridors defining gateways into neighborhood and the cultural and institutional properties,” Andrews said.

The board on July 22 considered the idea of “multiple property designations” for the most historic structures in the neighborhood roughly bordered by Congress, Franklin, Fore and Mountfort streets.

The approach would have been similar to ones taken in Tampa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., Andrews noted in a July 15 memo to the board, and patterned after a classification developed by the U.S. National Park Service, which administers the National Register of Historic Places.

Creating the multiple property designations would require amending the city historic preservation ordinance.

“That was not an insurmountable hurdle,” Andrews said.

The designations were also an interesting option for Shipyard Brewing Co. corporate counsel Brandon Mazer, who is also running for the City Council District 1 seat this fall.

“I was much more intrigued by this notion,” Mazer said. “I only have a very basic understanding of this process, but I believe that this would be based much more on a property-by-property evaluation, without creating an entire district.”

The board has also heard from property owners concerned that inclusion in a preservation zone would adversely affect what they could do with their buildings, even if they are deemed “non-contributing” to the historical significance of Portland’s first street.

Chris Korzen, a resident of 26 Hampshire St., also asked the board for more clarity about property owners’ rights to not be included in any district. The owners of his building and adjacent 28 Hampshire St., Bethany Field and Carmela Di Fazio, have asked for exclusion from any preservation zoning.

“Our structures are of an age and construction style that is hardly unique to the city, the state, or New England in general,” they said in a May 28 letter to the board.

Creation of a preservation district where the city Planning and Historic Preservation boards would have oversight over future development plans was recommended in the India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan accepted by the City Council in October 2014.

The plan also recommended “form-based” zoning for new construction, which requires building styles that fit into their surroundings. The Planning Board has been working on form-based zoning.

In her July 15 memo to the HPB, Andrews noted Planning Board members suggested the zoning “alone might be sufficient to ensure that new development within the neighborhood will be reasonably compatible with the area’s historic building stock.”

India Street has already gone through several incarnations, including its rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1866. The neighborhood became home to Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants, and was home to two Catholic churches and two synagogues, according to a historical survey by Larry and Daniello.

The neighborhood plan calls for the creation of a walkable, sustainable area with commercial development along India and Middle streets, while adding affordable housing in addition to the development along Federal and Newbury streets. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

The former North School and former India Street fire station are among buildings considered significant to the history of India Street in Portland.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.