Portland’s Historic Preservation Board is considering whether to designate House Island as a historic preservation district, a move that could affect development plans for the island prominently located near the entrance of Portland Harbor.

Two board members submitted the letter nominating House Island as a historic preservation district last month after developer Michael Scarks bought the 24-acre island best known for Fort Scammel, a military fort built in 1808. Greater Portland Landmarks, a nonprofit involved in historic preservation, recommended the designation.

“The island is an important cultural landscape and its buildings, including Fort Scammel and the immigration-era structures, tell the story of Portland’s military and social history,” Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, wrote in a letter to the Historic Preservation Board.

But Scarks, who has loose-knit plans for what he describes as “limited residential development” on the opposite end of the island from the fort, said he learned about the proposal only three weeks ago, after the sale. Scarks said prior notice could have affected his decision to buy the island, and he called the lack of communication inappropriate and “a disservice.”

“I am hoping that I will be asked to be more involved in the process than I have to date,” Scarks said.

Situated between Peaks Island and the northern tip of South Portland, House Island also occupies an important spot in Portland history.

It was used for centuries for fish curing — primarily salting cod — and has been the location of large fish processing and lobster pound businesses. Fort Scammel, located on the island’s southern tip, is the only fort along Maine’s coast to see action during the War of 1812, when the fort exchanged fire with a British privateer ship. The facility was expanded and strengthened during the Civil War.

In the early 1900s, House Island became Maine’s version of Ellis Island, as the federal government established an immigration station and quarantine facility there. Although the large detention facility is long gone, three buildings built by the federal government in 1907 remain standing.

On Wednesday, the preservation board held an initial workshop to begin reviewing the nomination petition. The board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Sept. 3 before making a recommendation on the nomination to the city Planning Board.

Designation as a historic district does not prohibit new development but requires extensive review by the Planning Department and Historic Preservation Board before work can begin. For Scarks, designation also could prohibit him from demolishing the three existing homes that were once part of the immigration station.

Scarks said he has not decided whether to rehabilitate or remove the three buildings as he explores the possibility of a limited number of luxury homes on the island. He plans to allow limited public access to Fort Scammel.

“Obviously the fort is a significant feature, and I certainly don’t have any plans to dismantle it,” Scarks said Thursday. “It is a pretty magnificent structure as it is. As for the other part of the island, you can probably pick any other building or street in Portland and, with a little research, find historic things that have happened there in the past 300 years. And this is not dissimilar.”

Greater Portland Landmarks maintains that House Island’s links to Maine’s maritime, military and immigration history merit the designation.

In 2012, the organization listed House Island among seven properties on its first “Places in Peril” report after learning the island’s long-time owners, the Cushing family, had put it on the market. While Fort Scammel has been deemed as probably eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a formal nomination never was submitted. The island has no legal protections.

Christopher Closs, preservation services advisor at Greater Portland Landmarks, said the group decided to move forward with the preservation district proposal in late spring, after hearing that Cushing had a likely buyer. But Closs said Portland Landmarks waited to recommend the designation formally rather than disrupt a sale.

Closs said his organization is not opposed to new development on the island but thinks the three, 107-year-old buildings should be preserved. Representatives from Greater Portland Landmarks met with Scarks on Tuesday to discuss the proposed historic district.

“Stopping progress and stopping development is not our game,” Closs said. “Our concern is that whatever Mr. Scarks does, that he does it in the best quality way and tries to preserve the historic attributes of the property.”

Scarks said he is still learning about the implications of a potential historic district designation but added that the island’s existing zoning allows denser development than he envisions.

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