AUGUSTA — A proposal to create a museum paying homage to the First Amendment in a former publishing family’s old home next to the Blaine House isn’t permitted under the city’s current zoning rules.

So councilors are considering a proposal, unanimously recommended by the Planning Board, to change those rules by creating a new definition of a museum and allowing museums in certain zones. The zones would include the one surrounding the proposed site of the Gannett House First Amendment museum at 184 State St.

The change would also have the effect of making at least one existing museum, the Maine State Museum, an allowed use in the zone where it has already long been operating, the Institutional/Business/Professional District, where museums and other services are not now an allowed use. The Gannett House is within that same zone.

The proposed change, according to Matt Nazar, city development director, would define what a museum is for zoning purposes and allow museums as conditional uses in four zones, including the zones where museums such as the Children’s Discovery Museum already exist and the zone where the proposed new First Amendment museum would be located.

“These changes would both accommodate a proposed new First Amendment museum at the Gannett House next door to the Blaine House and would ensure that all of the existing museums in the city remain or become conforming uses where they are located,” Nazar said in a memo to city councilors.

The organizers of the proposed First Amendment museum, meanwhile, said they have not yet closed a deal with the state to buy the property, but are hopeful they will shortly.

“We’re still hopeful we’ll close on it soon,” said Genie Gannett, granddaughter of Guy Gannett and president of the Gannett House Project, a nonprofit organization formed by members of the Guy P. Gannett family.

The yellow and brown Mediterranean Revival building was built in 1911 by William H. Gannett as a wedding gift to his son, Guy.

William Gannett was born in Augusta and was a successful entrepreneur who founded Comfort Magazine, which reached a circulation of 1 million copies. Later the Guy Gannett Publishing Company was established and grew to include the Morning Sentinel, Portland Press Herald, Portland Sunday Telegram, Portland Evening Express and Daily Kennebec Journal, as well as WGME television and WGAN radio. The family sold the company in 1998.

In December, the family group submitted the only bid to buy the building, which most recently housed the State Planning Office. At the time, neither Gannett nor the state disclosed the amount of the bid. However, minutes from a December meeting of the Capitol Planning Commission indicate the bid was for $378,000. Those minutes also indicated a need to change how the building is connected to the electrical supply before the sale is completed. The minutes indicated power to the building runs from the Burton Cross State Office Building.

Nazar suggested the city define museums similar to a definition adopted in 2007 by the International Council of Museums, which states: “Museums: a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

Gannett House organizers advocated for the change to the Planning Board. The board voted unanimously March 28 to recommend the changes to the Augusta Land Use Ordinance.

Councilors meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center to discuss that recommendation.

The meeting is scheduled to begin with the council’s first budget review session with discussion of the museum zoning rules change to follow the budget session.

Last week, City Manager William Bridgeo submitted a proposed $55.1 million budget to councilors, which would call for a tax increase of 5.4 percent and add two new police detective positions. The total budget, as proposed, is up 3.4 percent compared to the current year’s budget. Councilors are scheduled to hold several budget sessions as they review and potentially change the budget before likely voting on it in late May.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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