AUGUSTA — If a proposed new demolition delay ordinance had been in place in 2007, the historic Augusta home of former Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice William Penn Whitehouse might still be standing.

Instead, the circa-1850 Grove Street home was demolished by a developer to make way for a Walgreens drug store on Memorial Circle.

The proposed new ordinance, which goes to the Augusta City Council on Thursday night, would require the owners of historic buildings to wait at least 90 days, after notifying the city, before they could demolish their buildings. Proponents say the ordinance is meant to give preservationists and others time to find ways to save the city’s historic structures from being torn down.

“We want to be sensitive to the needs of historic preservation and make something happen that is positive and at the same time not be detrimental to development,” said Councilor David Rollins, chairman of the council committee that recommended the ordinance. “The key here is this is a delay ordinance, not a prevention ordinance. The worst-case scenario here is a delay, not a derailing of a development project.”

Councilors will consider the first of two readings of the ordinance when they meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Describing how a time delay can help save historic structures, Phyllis vonHerrlich, a member of the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission and volunteer with the Kennebec Historical Society, recounted a tale of two buildings and two pharmacies to city councilors last week.

One building, the 1846 American gothic brick house where prominent 19th-century minister and transcendental novelist Sylvester Judd lived, still stands just off Cony Circle. It was first scheduled to be demolished to make way for five parking spaces for the new CVS drug store, also in 2007.

The Augusta Historic Preservation Commission learned of the Judd house’s pending demise and got involved. Members convinced the city’s Planning Board to approve an exemption to allow the CVS to be built with five fewer parking spaces than was required by city ordinance, and the developer agreed to not raze the house.

Whitehouse’s building wasn’t so lucky. Historic preservationists got involved and found a woman willing to move the building to another spot. However, the deal couldn’t be completed in time for the developer’s stated 30-day deadline. Ultimately, the home was torn down.

“Another month would have saved that building,” vonHerrlich said.

The ordinance would not prevent owners of historic buildings from tearing down their properties; they only would have to wait 90 days from the day they apply for a demolition permit from the city.

During the 90-day period, the owner of historically significant buildings, according to deputy director of development services, would be required to work in good faith with historic preservationists and others interested in saving the building to find alternatives to demolishing the building, such as moving it.

Rollins said that doesn’t mean such building owners would be required to explore alternatives to demolition themselves, but that they would work with others interested in doing so.

Under the proposed ordinance, if a demolition permit is sought for any building greater than 200 square feet, the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission would have to review the case, using criteria specified in the ordinance to determine whether the building is historically significant. The commission would have 30 days to make that decision, with the demolition permit to be granted by the city’s code enforcement office and the demolition cleared to proceed if the commission either doesn’t decide in that time or determines the building is not significant.

Councilors on Thursday are also scheduled to:

  • Consider authorizing City Manager William Bridgeo to enter into a lease-purchase agreement for $2.1 million in energy-efficiency upgrades at Augusta City Center, Augusta Civic Center, and Buker Community Center;
  • Consider adopting policies and procedures for the use of CTV-7 television;
  • Consider establishing a Dog Park Advisory Committee; and
  • Consider authorizing a beer garden Aug. 11 for AugustaFest, at the city’s waterfront park and adjacent parking lot off Front Street.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.