The reason historic buildings are not cost-efficient to restore is because of the enormous overhead involved with dealing and complying with governmental agencies. In fact, none of the buildings Anthony Ronzio mentioned in his column on Sept. 22 could have been built in the first place if those rules, mandates, taxes, inspectors and obstacles had been in the way.

An Amish family and an “English” neighbor built same-sized barns in Pennsylvania. The Amish barn cost $30,000 to build. The modern-built barn, after attracting numerous government grants and complying with an army of regulators, state officials, architects and unions cost $1 million.

The thrust of the historical preservation forces in this state and the U.S. is to give tax write-offs to people who undertake to restore these structures. So the only people who can play are those with incomes so vast that they are looking for losses they can use as tax deductions. Not a lot of those folks are in Skowhegan, or apparently Augusta, or most small towns in Maine.

The solution is simple, of course, which is why no one has thought of it. Give the building to someone who agrees to restore it as close to the original as feasible, and allow them to do so under the laws, regulations and taxes that were in effect at the time the building was built, and using materials from the same local sources. Call them Historic Pine Tree Zones.

Thoreau may have eaten lunch at his mom’s house every day, but he did figure out a few things while loafing about Walden Pond, one of which was: “Government never of itself furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.”

Robert Blair Shaffer


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