AUGUSTA — City councilors plan to move ahead and seek to approve a controversial proposed historic district ordinance without actually designating the physical district in which its rules would apply.

After meeting with a state historic preservation official last week and hearing her concerns about the city’s currently proposed historic district boundaries, city officials agreed the district boundaries need to be redrawn because the currently proposed district includes too many properties that don’t meet federal Department of the Interior standards for historic preservation.

Multiple councilors agreed Thursday to move ahead with the ordinance and its historic preservation requirements without designating what part of the city it will apply to. The task of determining the district boundaries and thus which homes, businesses and other buildings would be subject to its rules would be left to a new board which would be created by the ordinance.

The proposal to create the ordinance is scheduled to go to councilors for the first of two required readings at their April 21 business meeting.

The ordinance would require the owners of properties determined to be “contributing” historic buildings within the district to have many exterior changes to their buildings approved by the to-be-created Augusta Historic District Review Board.

At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said he feels councilors are rushing on the ordinance and expressed doubts about voting for it without knowing who would be subject to its rules.

“I’m going to be voting on this without any understanding of who it affects,” Bilodeau said. “We’re going to push this to a vote while there are still a lot of questions that aren’t answered.”

Mayor David Rollins, who as a city councilor previously served as chairman of the committee which drafted the proposed new ordinance, said it was created in large part in response to west side property owners who wanted help protecting the historic character of the area.

The district as initially proposed includes much of Augusta’s west side, including the downtown area and residential neighborhoods.

The historic designation could also have financial benefits in the form of grants to the city and state and federal tax credits for the owners of commercial buildings in the district who wish to renovate their buildings while preserving their historic attributes.

However, in a recent meeting with Christi Mitchell, assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, city officials learned the city’s proposed district may not meet Department of the Interior standards required to qualify properties within it to receive state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

Rollins and Mitchell said the current boundaries of the proposed historic preservation district include too many properties, particularly on its boundary lines, that are not considered to have historic value.

Mitchell said historic districts are generally made up of groupings of historic buildings united by a time period or other historical significance. She said that concentrations of buildings make up the district, not the buildings that happen to be surrounding them.

Thus, the city plans to move ahead with the ordinance approval process, but have the district boundaries examined more closely and redrawn.

The Augusta Historic District Review Board, which would be created as part of the ordinance, would determine district boundaries with the help of a consultant and the city staff and eventually propose new boundaries.

The current proposed historic district includes the downtown Water Street area north until just beyond Bond Street, extending as far south as a small portion of Western Avenue at Memorial Circle, and includes homes and other buildings along parts of State, Green, Bridge, Chapel, Melville, South Chestnut, North Chestnut, Spring, Winter and Summer streets.

Three areas within the previously proposed district boundaries already are designated as National Historic Districts, so those areas should already qualify under federal historic standards. They include neighborhoods centered on Winthrop Street, Crosby Street and Bond Street.

Nazar suggested the board start by including in the proposed new district, the three national historic districts already in the neighborhood, which he said, “are the low hanging fruit. They would qualify for Certified Local Government and already qualify for federal and state tax credits.”

The city also could move ahead immediately with a process Rollins said began about a year ago: to have the downtown area along Water Street designated a National Historic District.

Separating the process of having the downtown designated a National Historic District from the likely-to-be-contested approval of the Historic District Ordinance, which has been criticized by some councilors and residents of the district as an infringement on private property rights, could allow downtown building owners to seek historic development tax credits sooner.

At one point Thursday’s council meeting came to a brief halt as Rollins, Ward 1 Councilors Linda Conti and At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick argued over whether Rollins, as mayor, should continue to run the meeting and determine who should be recognized to speak when he was commenting with his opinion on an issue.

McCormick contended, under parliamentary procedural rules, that Rollins shouldn’t be able to call on himself to speak, while Rollins insisted the city charter gives the mayor the right to talk about any issue before the council.

City Manager William Bridgeo recommended the issue be sent to the city attorney for his opinion.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.