AUGUSTA — A controversial proposal to create a historic district encompassing much of the city’s west side, including the downtown, is back before city councilors following a review of the proposed ordinance by state historic preservation officials.

Some residents of the area to be included within the proposed new district, as well as some city councilors, have expressed concerns about having to go through an additional layer of approval to do work on the exteriors of homes and other buildings in the district. That, they said, could add time and cost to home renovations and repairs.

Councilors had several meetings about the proposal last year but have yet to vote on whether to adopt the ordinance and create a locally designated historic district that would encompass two existing designated National Historic Districts surrounding Winthrop and Crosby streets.

The council process has been on hold since fall while the ordinance was reviewed by staff at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

Mayor David Rollins said the commission reviewed the ordinance only to suggest edits to help the city comply with the standards of the commission’s Certified Local Government program. That program could allow property owners in the city, if Augusta is certified, to qualify for additional grant money.

Rollins has suggested the city should pursue that designation, and having a historic district ordinance that meets the requirements would help.

“The state is involved in our ordinance only to suggest language they’d want to see in it, if we were to submit our ordinance as part of an application to be a Certified Local Government,” Rollins said. “So they’re suggesting some word edits, not anything about how our ordinance should be crafted.”

The ordinance goes back to councilors for discussion, but not a vote, at their meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Augusta City Center council chamber.

Before the topic was essentially shelved while it was reviewed by the state, proponents of the proposed ordinance had argued last year it would help protect the city’s privately owned historic architecture and preserve the historic character of Augusta.

Opponents, meanwhile, expressed fears the additional level of review required for renovations on the exteriors of historic properties within the district would slow down renovations of homes and other buildings and increase the cost of such projects.

Given the significant previous interest in the proposal, At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said, the city should take pains to get the word out to property owners who could be affected by it now that it is returning to the councilors.

“We’re developing something pretty big here. I think they have a right to know we’re starting this process back up,” he said. “I think people have a right to know.”

Rollins said the city would take the usual notification steps. Those usual steps do not include individual mailings to property owners within the proposed district. They do include postings in the newspaper.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the ordinance would be posted on the city’s Facebook page, and councilors could email electronic versions of the proposal to residents.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said residents and others will have at least two more chances for public comment on the ordinance because new ordinances require first and second readings before approval, and public comment will be taken at each of those readings. Thursday’s meeting is expected to be an informational session, meaning the ordinance will be discussed but not voted on. The votes and two readings must take place at business meetings. The next council business meeting is scheduled for March 17.

The proposed new historic district 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 proposed ordinance is on the city’s website, www.augustamaine.gov.

Councilors on Thursday are also scheduled to:

• Discuss becoming a designated Age Friendly Community with the AARP,

• Discuss selling a property acquired through nonpayment of taxes at 455 Church Hill Road, and

• Discuss a proposal to use state Revolving Renovation Fund loan funding to fix the roof at Hussey Elementary School.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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