AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed concerns Thursday that a proposal to create a new historic district covering much of the west side and downtown could increase the cost of renovations, delay projects, and be an intrusion into private property rights.

“Let me tell you my point of view about property ownership, which is very liberal toward the owner, meaning I don’t want to get into telling people what to do,” at-large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said. “I’ll be asking questions over the next two or three council meetings which I’m asking because I don’t necessarily want anybody telling me what I can do with my house. What siding I’m going to use. Or going to somebody and telling them what windows to pick out.”

Mayor David Rollins said the ordinance was years in the making and would help preserve the historic architecture in the area, increase property values and spur investment and economic development in Augusta.

Rollins, a real estate appraiser and chairman of the committee that recommended the new historic district ordinance, said other municipalities have adopted much more stringent historic preservation ordinances and have seen property values and community pride increase. He also said the ordinance was written in response to requests from residents of the west side neighborhood encompassed by the proposed new district who wanted help protecting and preserving the historic architecture of their neighborhood. He noted building owners will benefit as much or more than the city and their neighbors by maintaining and investing in their homes and other buildings.

“This is one of, if not the, premier neighborhoods in the city of Augusta,” Rollins said. “We’re looking to put forth an ordinance that hopefully revitalizes that neighborhood. Revitalization of a neighborhood takes invest ment. And we have invested a ton of public money in the city of Augusta. Our community has stepped up with public money and private help, and to continue that, we need private homeowners to invest in their property and maintain it.”

COST OF COMPLIANCE

Councilors disagreed Thursday on whether the new ordinance could increase the cost of some building projects, such as window replacement.

At-large Councilor Dan Emery said it could cost someone more if the person is required to use a more historic-looking window instead of a basic window.

At-large Councilor Dale McCormick disagreed.

“I’m a carpenter, a contractor, I know how to do these things,” she said. “You can replace a window and make it look historic that will not cost you any more.”

Rollins agreed, however, that the ordinance’s requirements could in some cases require building owners to spend more than they would were it not in place.

“The cost factor, I think, could be slightly more, but I don’t think it’s going to be extravagantly more,” Rollins said. “Where you could get yourself in trouble is if you let your porch get into a state of disrepair, and you want to take the period-appropriate porch away and put in three steps instead. The cost factor of putting in three steps could be significantly less than maintaining your porch. But in that district, you’d be asked to maintain your porch.”

The proposal would create a new historic district – centered on Winthrop Street and encompassing the downtown area – meant to encourage the preservation of the historic architecture in that part of the city. It would do so by requiring the owners of homes and other buildings within the district to prevent their buildings from falling “into a state of deterioration by neglect” and, if they renovate the exteriors of their buildings, to have those renovations approved following varying degrees of review, depending on the extent of those renovations.

It would create a new locally designated historic district that encompasses three existing designated National Historic Districts surrounding Winthrop, Crosby and Bond streets. The national historic districts in place now do not require building owners in them to meet any standards.

PERMITS AND REVIEWS

Major projects, such as construction of a new commercial building within the proposed new locally designated district, would require a building permit and approval from both the Planning Board and proposed new Augusta Historic District Review Board. Projects such as an addition to a house would need a building permit and review and approval by the Historic District Review Board, according to Matt Nazar, director of development services. Small projects such as window replacement would require only the approval of the proposed new review board.

Renovation projects not visible from a public way would not be subject to the ordinance’s rules.

The proposal first went to councilors in March, but they simply forwarded it to the Planning Board for review and a recommendation.

After two public hearings, board members voted unanimously to recommend passage, so it returned unchanged to the council for discussion Thursday. It is expected to go to the council for the first of two required readings Aug. 6.

Some city councilors who said they support having a district where building owners are required to meet standards for exterior renovations took issue with parts of the proposed ordinance, particularly the makeup of the new review board.

The ordinance currently states there would be seven board members appointed by the mayor, including one member who is also a member of the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission, two members who live within the district, two members who own businesses in the district and two additional members.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, who lives on the west side and said she supports having a historic preservation ordinance, said she was concerned there could be only one member of the board with historic preservation experience.

No members of the public commented on the proposal at Thursday’s discussion.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

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