AUGUSTA — Owners of buildings within a proposed historic district fear it will change quick $200 projects into long projects costing up to $2,000 and put control of their properties into the hands of seven strangers on a new review board.

Officials said the intent of the ordinance is not to do any of those things, but agreed in response to those and other concerns to delay action on the historic district ordinance to address them and hold a community forum on the issue.

Landlord and resident Kathleen “Sukey” Sikora said the proposed new historic district ordinance would put her at a competitive disadvantage by making even simple projects within the district costly and time-consuming and stymieing her efforts to help make Augusta better by renovating buildings, .

“If you’re the owner of a contributing property (deemed to be historic), every exterior change involves getting a historic preservation certificate, and that involves a very long, expensive process,” Sikora told city councilors Thursday.

She said if the ordinance is approved and she wants to replace a drafty window to make a tenant’s life better, she’d have to provide drawings and plans showing elevations and include samples of the materials to be used, photographs of her building and adjacent buildings and a site plan to a review board. She said the proposed standards are appropriate for national landmark properties, not small residential duplexes.

“It’s going to take a month and a half and probably cost $2,000. A lot of people aren’t going to be able to afford that,” she said as she ripped into the ordinance. “What you’ve done is put me at an economic disadvantage to a landlord two doors down because it’s not going to be a level playing field. I’m all in and you’re changing the rules of the game. That’s not cool. You have no right to mess with my business that way. I love this city, but this is insanity.”

Mayor David Rollins said he understands there are fears in the community about the proposal, but said Augusta may be the only city in Maine without a historic district and when other cities have adopted them, property values have increased within the districts.

“There are some fears, but those same concerns were raised when zoning came in, when shoreland zoning came in, and yet today those things are seen as protecting valuable and vulnerable properties,” Rollins said Friday. “And historic properties are just as vulnerable.”

Rollins said the first of two required readings and votes on the proposal, initially planned for next week, will be postponed. A community forum will be held, likely the week of Sept. 21, to present information and take input on the plan.

Valerie Morin, who lives in and has a rental building within the district, said she feels the issue should go to a citywide vote, not just be decided by city councilors. She said information on the ordinance is hard to find.

“I’ve worked really hard to get a property here in the city I love, and now I’m feeling like there are new rules that are going to be put upon me that aren’t going to be put upon other people,” she said. “I like to go around and look at doing renovations. Now I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to do things. This is my house. This is what I have here, other than the relatives who love me. This is important. I say this is my house. I want to be able to vote on this.”

Other building owners and city councilors expressed concerns the ordinance could prevent homeowners from adding heat pumps or solar panels to help heat their homes, if they’d be visible from the road and not in compliance with historic standards.

At-Large City Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said he won’t vote for the ordinance.

“I don’t support this ordinance, not because it’s not written well or it’s not good, but because it’s a fundamental property belief for me,” he said.

Other councilors seek changes to the proposed ordinance which would create a historic district covering a large section of the city’s west side and downtown areas to speed up the review process for renovations within the district.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, who said she supports the ordinance and wants to see a revised version of it adopted, suggested removing provisions giving the historic review board, which would review most exterior projects visible from the road within the district, 15 days to inform the building owner of their decision. She said minor changes which meet standards should be able to be approved by the city’s code enforcement officers, and projects requiring review by the board should be decided at the meeting at which they are reviewed, as is done at most Planning Board meetings.

Development Director Matt Nazar said the 15-day review period could be removed from the ordinance.

The ordinance has different review requirement standards for properties within the district based on whether they have been deemed contributing or noncontributing buildings in the district. Those determinations were made previously by historic architecture experts who reviewed buildings within the district and determined which category they fit into. In general, buildings at least 50 years old that have not had their original exterior character altered are deemed contributing properties, and renovation projects on them would be subject to more stringent review.

Rollins said the committee that drafted the ordinance, of which he served as chairman, intended there to be an appeal process so owners can have an expert review whether their buildings should be subject to the restrictions.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city should consider retaining such an expert, at least for the first year after the ordinance is adopted, to review properties’ contributing or noncontributing status at no charge to building owners.

The ordinance would create a new locally designated historic district that encompasses two existing designated National Historic Districts surrounding Winthrop and Crosby streets. It would include the downtown Water Street area north until just beyond Bond Street, extend as far south as a small portion of Western Avenue at Memorial Circle, and include homes and other buildings along parts of State, Green, Bridge, Chapel, Melville, South Chestnut, North Chestnut, Spring, Winter and Summer streets.

The existing National Historic Districts included within the proposed local district don’t require building renovations to comply with any standards. The proposed local ordinance, however, would require some exterior work visible from public areas to be reviewed and approved before taking place.

Resident David Smith said he wouldn’t be directly impacted by the ordinance, but said he fears it will make it too costly for some building owners to take on renovations. He also said the ordinance should be simplified so everyone can understand it.

Rollins said there is guidance within the ordinance to help building owners know what requires review by the board and how projects they wish to do can be done in a way to meet historic preservation standards.

At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick said the ordinance does not require that specific materials be used, just that the work retains the historical appearance of a structure, which she said can be done without making a project more expensive.

Rollins noted the proposal has been in the works for three years and the subject of at least four neighborhood meetings, but agreed to slow the process down and to hold an additional community forum.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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