Yarmouth planners back longer waiting period for demolitions

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YARMOUTH — Town councilors on Tuesday tentatively scheduled a public hearing and vote on a recommendation from the Planning Board that would prevent historical buildings from being torn down for up to nine months, and in some cases indefinitely. 

The council also received an update on plans for a new harbormaster building.

The demolition ordinance adopted April 12 postpones demolition of buildings or structures that are at least 75 years old and are partially or wholly in the town’s demolition delay overlay zone. It gives the Planning Board 60 days to determine if the structure to be demolished is a “building of value;” if not, demolition may proceed.

However, if a structure is deemed valuable, an additional 60-day delay would take place before a demolition permit will be issued. The delay allows the town and historic preservation organizations to encourage alternatives – such as restoration, relocation or rehabilitation.

After the second delay, the property owner has the right to go forward with demolition if no better solution has been found.

After approving the demolition delay in April, the council asked the board to draft additional provisions and stronger protections of historic properties. 

As proposed by the board, the expanded demolition delay and restriction would prohibit the demolition of any building or structure within the demolition delay overlay zone that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places or is determined by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to be eligible for listing on the register.

The board also said the demolition delay should require more time to determine a building’s significance and is proposing the council extend the two 60-day periods to 90- and 180-day delays.

If the ordinance is amended, the board would have 90 days from the date a demolition application is received to hold a public hearing. If within the 90-days the building is deemed a “Building of Value,” a demolition permit would not be granted for an additional 180 days while the applicant, Planning Board and related parties brainstorm alternatives. 

If considered not of value, there would be an additional 30-day period before a permit is granted where the Town Council or other invested parties could appeal the board’s ruling.

Councilors Pat Thompson and Tim Shannon questioned whether the council, as the town’s ultimate governing body, should have to appeal to a subordinate board.

Language to allow the council to overrule a Planning Board decision will be discussed during an Operations Committee meeting on July 17, but Town Manager Nat Tupper warned it might be “going down the wrong road” and lead to the need to create two separate ordinances: one on a demolition delay, the other to require demolition permitting from both the Planning Board and Town Council. 

Further, the amended proposal states that, if the council should conclude that a moratorium on demolition is warranted, it would be fully binding on any applications for demolition that are in the process under the ordinance.

The council tentatively scheduled a public hearing and vote on the revised ordinance on July 27.

If councilors decide at next week’s Operations Committee meeting that they need more time, the item will be moved to a meeting in September, since Town Planner Alex Jaegerman will be absent in August. 

There are 11 buildings in Yarmouth already listed on the historic register, with more eligible, according to Jaegerman.

They include the Capt. S. C. Blanchard House, 46 Main St.; Camp Hammond, 74 Main St.; Central Parish Church, 146 Main St.; First Parish Congregational Church, 135 Main St.; the Grand Trunk Railroad Station; Capt. Reuben Merrill House, 97 W. Main St.; Mitchell House, 40 Main St.; North Yarmouth Academy, 148 Main St.; North Yarmouth and Freeport Baptist Meetinghouse, 25 Hillside St., and the Cushing and Hannah Prince House, 189 Greely Road.

Harbormaster building

Police Chief Michael Morrill said replacing the harbormaster building at the end of Old Shipyard Road near the town landing and boat launch is expected to cost around $250,000, but is necessary.

The structure, he said, is estimated to have been built before World War II. 

As the Harbor & Waterfront/Shellfish Department’s programming is growing, so are its spacial needs, Morrill said. The warden, Will Owen, currently spends most of his time working out of the Police Department.

Morrill said to allow Owen to work primarily from the boat landing, a new building with basic amenities that the current facility lacks – including a bathroom, running water and wireless internet – is needed.

Because the Harbor & Waterfront/Shellfish office is “critical to Yarmouth’s economy,” Tupper said, the town has already secured partial funding of $150,000 from the Economic Development Fund.

The council also voted in May to increase mooring fees in hopes of offsetting the remainder of the cost.

Fees were increased in all categories by $25, and launch/parking fees were increased by $5, which is expected to generate an additional $17,000 per year for the department to help cover the fees of a lease-financing arrangement.

What the Harbor & Waterfront Committee needs now is authorization from the council to finance through a lease-purchasing arrangement up to $100,000, after which they’ll try to gather as many donations and grant funding as possible to offset that cost.

The committee is scheduled to present plans for the new building on Aug. 2. The council then could move the authorization to a vote on Aug. 16. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

The Town Council will hear plans for a new Harbormaster building, estimated to cost $250,000, during a workshop on Aug. 2.