With many Standish residents grappling with how best to act responsibly concerning historic buildings and properties, a serious debate has arisen over the fate of the Higgins home.

Located in the historic district, the early 1800s late federal style home is slated to be moved 200 yards down Bonny Eagle Road, replacing an old mobile home, in order to make room for a retail business on Standish corner. The developer, who offered Robert Higgins $880,000 for that lot combined with the two abutting lots, has agreed to design the new building to be architecturally in keeping with those in the district. He has also agreed to restore the Higgins house in its new location. But some historic preservation advocates believe this isn’t good enough.

Standish Historical Society president and president of the trustees of the Old Red Church Eleanor Dudek is determined not only to preserve the building but to keep the district intact.

“The reason we created the historic district was to prevent this exact scenario,” she said.

Dudek said that in the Comprehensive Plan Committee survey, the number one desire of those residents responding was “to protect the historic rural character of Standish.” Although she feels the town failed to protect the historic district soon enough, allowing the oldest house to be moved and commercial business places to develop, she believes it must be protected now.

“I guess you have to take a stand or end up like North Windham,” she said.

Dudek said she and her husband, along with several others in the community, plan to file a lawsuit against the Historic Preservation Commission for failing to follow the proper procedure outlined in Standish’s Preservation Ordinance that was passed several years ago. Right now, the group is waiting for Maine Preservation to commit to adding their name to the suit.

But not everyone believes moving an historic home is such a bad idea. Burns Cameron, acting chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said they checked with the town’s attorney who told them that nothing is in the ordinance that requires owners to maintain their property.

“We felt it was in the best interest of the town to move the building and have it rebuilt,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for Standish – protecting what we have in the way of historic sites.”

But the commission evidently changed its mind on the matter between its December and January meetings.

In December’s meeting, the commission met with the developer, Mr. Delois, who had the option to purchase the Higgins property. According to Cameron, the commission advised Delois that his plan did not look promising but invited him to January’s meeting.

Standish resident George McNeil, bitterly opposed to the plan to move the Higgins home, attended the December meeting. His name also appears on the lawsuit against the commission.

“At that meeting, Burns (Cameron) admitted he had a conflict because moving the house would mean moving it closer to his property,” McNeil said.

Since the run-down mobile home would be removed to accommodate the house, Cameron acknowledged that it would ultimately increase his property’s value.

Subsequent to the December meeting, the commission received a five-page, single-spaced letter from Higgins, outlining his reasons for selling the property to Delois.

“We undoubtedly could have gotten a much higher offer for those properties from someone who wanted to simply raze the buildings and start from scratch, most likely well over $1 million,” Higgins said in the letter. “We feel that since we have already made a major

monetary sacrifice in order to work within the historical considerations, the town should now do the right thing and allow Mr. Delois to proceed.”

At January’s meeting, which opponents say was advertised as a public meeting, not a public hearing, the commission voted to allow Delois to proceed if he agreed to move and restore the home and to put up a building in its place that reflects the historical heritage of Standish. Three of the commission’s five members were present for the vote.

Cameron said he “read the ordinance and Bob Higgins’ letter over and over again.” While some believe it is important to maintain the district as a whole, Cameron said he was more concerned with preserving historic structures throughout the town.

“We felt we could get the best deal for Standish by getting that house saved so it will last another 100 years,” he said.

But McNeil says it’s a matter of upholding the law.

“I worked very hard to get the Preservation Ordinance passed,” McNeil said, “so I am extremely troubled that it isn’t being followed.”

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