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- The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is considering land use ordinance amendments to support historic preservation.
The two proposed amendments, developed by the Arts & Historic Preservation Committee, would create a process to designate buildings as “historic” and create special exceptions for how they could be reused.
The AHPC, a nine-member committee with representation from Greater Portland Landmarks and the South Portland Historical Society, was established in 2014 to “assist the City Council in preserving the historical and architectural integrity of South Portland, fostering beautification of public areas, and promoting the educational, cultural, economic, aesthetic value, and general welfare of South Portland.”
Originally scheduled for Feb. 12, the council postponed the workshop discussion until Feb. 14 due to winter weather. The date change meant the only member of the AHPC who could attend was Community Planner Justin Barker.
At the meeting, Barker said there are about 400 properties in South Portland that are at least 120 years old, but fewer than 30 have been formally identified as historic through the 2012 Comprehensive Plan Update.
“(Comprehensive Plan identification) doesn’t really do much at this point,” Barker said. “It’s just a gesture of historic significance.”
The AHPC proposes establishing an official historic inventory, with the same criteria used as the National Register of Historic Places.
“The AHPC feels it’s important to outline how these resources are designated, as well as what criteria must be met to get on that list,” Barker said. “This helps eliminate ambiguity and establishes a consistency going forward.”
As the AHPC identifies historic buildings, it would make recommendations to the council, which would have the authority to add them to the list.
Barker said the city’s Planning and Development Department fielded several inquiries during late 2018 that were related to properties containing potentially historic buildings, including one of the city’s older homes at 265 Cottage Road.
Capt. David Boyd had the home built around the time of the Civil War and lived there with his wife, Elizabeth. After their deaths, the homestead passed through the estate to their son, Capt. Albert D. Boyd, in 1887. Over the years, the house has changed hands several times and most recently was home to the Sisters of Mercy.
The property is zoned Residential District A, which allows single-family dwellings and limited governmental or nonprofit uses. According to Barker, when the property went up for sale last fall, many potential buyers wanted to reuse the building, but none of the uses would be allowed under current zoning. That means the building could remain vacant if purchased or the property could be subdivided and the building would likely be demolished.
A joint workshop with the Planning Board and AHPC at 265 Cottage Road on Dec. 8, 2018, to discuss some alternatives was well attended, Barker said, with more than 25 members of the public and 11 board and committee members.
Attendees were generally in favor of a special exception approval process specific to historic resources that would create an “adaptive reuse” exception in the city’s AA, A, G and VR zones, which are primarily residential.
The exception would only be allowed for properties that are officially designated as historic resources and would allow for uses such as museums, art galleries, assisted living facilities, community homes and inns.
Barker said the Planning Board would have to approve each individual application as it comes through.
“The City recognizes that there are historic resources located in residential zoning districts that should be preserved as important features in South Portland,” the proposed amendment reads. “The City also recognizes that many of these structures cannot reasonably accommodate a permitted use within the existing structure.”
Rather than sending them to a first reading, as recommended by City Manager Scott Morelli, the council opted to send the committee’s proposal to another workshop, with more representation from the committee.
Councilor Kate Lewis said she’d like to see the committee “go bigger,” by creating more incentives for property owners to apply for an adaptive reuse and applying the policy to other areas of the city, such as those zoned commercial, rather than just residential.
“I’m looking for something that’s a little more of a complete proposal for an ordinance change relating to historic preservation,” she said.
Lewis also proposed adding a demolition delay clause that could put a hold on demolition until a property was assessed for historical significance, which Barker said AHPC was working on drafting and planned to propose separately.
Councilor Maxine Beecher also said she was happy to see the proposal, but would like it to go further.
Planning Director Tex Haeuser said the purpose of this proposal was simply to amend zoning to allow reasonable reuse of residential properties that might otherwise be too expensive for owners to rehabilitate.
“It’s just too expensive to fix them up for what zoning currently allows,” he said. “… They have to go in steps. You can’t do historic preservation in one fell swoop.”
Town Clerk Emily Scully said on Tuesday that a second workshop has not been scheduled yet. When the amendments to come before the council for action, they’ll require a super-majority vote to pass, as they’d apply to the city’s land use ordinance.
This home at 265 Cottage Road is one of the historic buildings the South Portland Arts & Historic Preservation Committee would like to protect.