HALLOWELL — After more than two months of back-and-forth discussion, debate and disagreement, the Hallowell Planning Board voted 4-2 against the demolition of a waterfront building at 226 Water St. at its meeting Wednesday night at City Hall.

The building’s owner, Steve Hammond, was not at the meeting; but his attorney, Walt McKee, and his contractor, Andrew Bealieu, expressed disappointment in the decision and said they plan to take the matter to the Board of Appeals.

The major opposition to Hammond’s plan came from Row House, a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve historic Hallowell. Since January, the organization has argued that the building did not qualify for demolition under the city’s ordinance.

“We are extremely pleased with the decision,” Row House President Carolyn Manson said. “It’s what we advocated for.”

The ordinance states that a building cannot be approved for demolition by the Planning Board unless “the structure is of limited architectural or historic value as part of the visual character of the street on which it is located” or it “presents an immediate hazard and a possibility of harm to the neighborhood.”

Hammond’s attorney, Walt McKee, who spoke on the builder’s behalf at each of three Planning Board meetings, has said the building is structurally unsound and has obvious deterioration. McKee said Hammond respects the fact that the building is in a historic district but doesn’t see any historical value in it.

At the February meeting, the Planning Board expected Row House to provide additional evidence to support its position that the building has historical significance. Board members Judith Feinstein and Darryl Brown Jr. said they were disappointed in the lack of evidence presented by the historical preservation group.

Brown, who voted in favor of demolition, said he drives past the building every day and never has thought of it as a historic structure.

“I’m not sure I’d miss it,” Brown said. “We shouldn’t force a building owner to rebuild a house just because some people don’t want it torn down.”

McKee said the property would remain in its current boarded-up state because it makes no sense to spend money on renovating it.

During the meeting, McKee reintroduced the evidence he had offered in February to support the position that the building has limited historic value. He said the building is not mentioned in the book “Historic Hallowell” and does not appear on Row House’s own map of historic structures in Hallowell.

“I stressed this because separate people not connected with this process and without an agenda have said, in essence, that this property has limited historic or architectural value,” McKee said. “Every single house in the historic district has some history to it. If the standard is that every house has a story, I’d lose every day of the week.”

But Scott Hanson, an architectural historian from Sutherland Conservation and Consulting, said the building’s lack of inclusion in a book doesn’t mean it should be eligible for demolition.

The original plan for demolition was presented by McKee during January’ s meeting, but he did not provide details of what Hammond planned to do with the vacant property. McKee said Hammond had been burned in the past when providing detailed plans too early in the process.

The nondescript, two-story blue building, which was the former home of Hallowell Mayor Mark Walker’s law office for seven years, is boarded up after having sustained water damage during a rainstorm in February. Walker has long favored the demolition of the structure and even submitted a letter to the Planning Board supporting Hammond’s plan.

Hammond’s team had maintained that the building was not structurally sound and provides limited historic or architectural value.

“What will go in its place will be far better and will have a historic look consistent with Hallowell,” McKee told the Kennebec Journal in February. Hammond owns four other buildings in Hallowell, and McKee said “everyone agrees that Steve has done incredible work on every project he has done in Hallowell and goes above and beyond.”

Later in the meeting, Steven Lachance and his partners presented plans for a new outdoor space at The Quarry Tap Room, located at 122 Water St. The plan includes landscaping and an outdoor dining area which was described as “essentially a beer garden.” The Planning Board tabled the application until April’s meeting.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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