The plastic-covered wall cuts that were made for balconies are seen Thursday on back of 153 Water St. in downtown Augusta Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Those planning to undertake a project in a city historic district better check with the review board tasked with maintaining the character of the buildings in that area.

That was the lesson learned at the Augusta Historic District Review Board meeting Tuesday. The board rejected a proposal for signs to be placed on the outside of the Governor Hill mansion and ordered a downtown developer to reinstall some windows and granite sills that had been removed without approval.

The city board charged with reviewing proposed exterior changes to buildings within the city’s historic districts to ensure they fit with the existing surrounding historic character tabled a decision on Soo Parkhurst’s proposal to install doors and decks on the river side of her building at 153 Water St.

Workers at Parkhurst’s building have already demolished a large section of brick wall on the two upper floors, and removed four windows, along with their granite sills and lintels. City officials said that work took place without it being reviewed and approved by the board.

Historic District Review Board members spoke in favor of the city staff proposal for the reinstallation of much of the brick wall and two of the four windows that were removed from building, which was built around 1912. The other two window spaces would be used as doors to access the proposed new decks.

But they stopped short of approving the decks, asking for renderings of what that would look like.

“I have a concern about the lintels and sills being taken out (from above and below the removed windows). I have a problem with that, because to me it really changes the character of the building,” said Cheryl Clukey, Historic District Review Board member. “I have no problem with the decks.”

Richard Parkhurst, Soo Parkhurst’s father whose family’s efforts largely have driven significant redevelopments in the city’s previously struggling downtown, apologized. He took responsibility for the work taking place without first being reviewed by the board, saying he mistakenly thought earlier approvals from city officials included the historic district requirement as well.

“I want to apologize for us moving forward too quickly. It was a misunderstanding on my part,” Richard Parkhurst said at the Zoom meeting. “I thought we had that submitted on our first application. We didn’t intend to move on without your approval, and I actually thought we had it.”

He said they kept several hundred bricks they’d planned to use to rebuild the wall with the updated design. Richard Parkhurst said he wasn’t sure whether the mason still had the granite sills, but would check.

Soo Parkhurst said their plan to replace the two sets of windows with much larger glass panels was meant to help bring more light into the building, in part because there are no windows on two sides of the structure which abuts other nearby buildings.

Board members and city staff said the proposed decks overlooking the nearby Kennebec River were acceptable, but suggested changing from planned wood to metal supports to better match building materials used on other nearby buildings.

The board delayed a vote on the proposal until its next meeting, with just member Michael Hall, also executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, opposed to the delay.

A view of Governor Hill mansion, at 136 State St. in Augusta, on Wednesday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The review board also rejected a proposal from attorney Stephen Smith to place two signs for his law firm on the exterior of the historic Governor Hill mansion at 136 State St. Built in 1902, it was constructed for Maine’s 45th governor, Gov. John Fremont Hill, and designed by the state’s most prominent architect, John Calvin Stevens.

The plan called for one sign to be placed on the State Street side of the building, with the other on the Green Street side, where there is an ornate colonial revival facade and entrance to the mansion.

Mounting a sign to the stone building would be an irreversible change, board members said, and could set a precedent that would result in a cluttered appearance with multiple signs on the building.

Board member Lorie Mastemaker suggested either adding the law firm to the building’s existing sign mounted in the ground along State Street, or that Smith seek a variance from the city to have his own ground-mounted sign.

City codes for that zoning district only allow one ground-mounted sign per building, though more than one entity can be listed on each sign. Currently the building’s sign only says “The Governor Hill Mansion. Banquet Hall & Conference Center.”

“We’d certainly like to see that, I think” Mastemaker said of a sign mounted in the ground instead of on the ornate building. “Is that something that can be looked at, given that we now have this historic district and we’ve got tenants in the crown jewel of Augusta?”

A ground mounted sign would be his preference, Smith said, but pointed to city rules preventing that. He said he’s been able to place much larger signs on offices in historic areas of Bangor that Smith said were considered iconic buildings there. He said officials didn’t object to that and the character of the buildings was not diminished.

“Frankly I’m a little frustrated,” said Smith, who said his firm is renting space on the second floor of the mansion. “We’d dearly love a ground-mounted sign, that is the ideal solution, the most respectful way to deal with the problem. But to say you can’t have a sign, or can only have a tiny sign, that to me is no answer.”

Attorney Walter McKee, whose law firm is a short distance away on State Street, said he agrees there should be no signs placed on the mansion. He suggested Smith’s law firm be added to the existing Governor Hill Mansion sign.

The board did unanimously approve another project, which — like the Parkhurst project — began before the developer had sought or received a historic review or approval.

New windows and a door have already been installed at 166 Water St. by Dean Petruzzi and Highland Management, which was approved with the condition that new mortar placed around a window of the building be redone to match the color of the existing mortar.

Deputy City Planner Betsy Poulin said the windows on the back of the building were likely not original or historic windows.

Petruzzi told board members custom double hung windows have been ordered, but take several weeks to be built. In the meantime, he said, casement windows have been installed to fill the gaps temporarily.

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