Greater Portland Landmarks has strong interest in the preservation of Williston West Church (1888) and Parish House (1914), which are important community landmark buildings that help define the Western Promenade Historic District, as well as the historic fabric of the city as a whole.

Dr. Frank Monsour of Brisbane, Australia, the new owner of the church complex, is requesting a zoning change to allow a portion of the parish hall to be used as office space for up to 14 employees of his computer software business. Plans for the parish hall also include three residences.

Monsour is still developing plans for the sanctuary, which he hopes to make available for community use. In exchange for flexibility on the zoning, which prohibits the office use, the city of Portland will require completion of specified rehabilitation projects to preserve the historic buildings for another 50 years, off-street parking for all employees, as well as compliance with agreed-upon guidelines for the buildings’ use.

Landmarks generally supports the conditional rezoning proposal and encourages approval by the Planning Board and ultimately the City Council. Extensive discussion, public participation and deliberation by the city’s Planning Board and staff have evolved into a proposal that balances the preservation requirements of the buildings, concerns of neighbors, the residential character of the neighborhood, and the goals of the developer.

We believe that the proposed uses, including residences, a small-scale, computer-based office in the parish hall, and a future community hall with parameters carefully vetted by the Planning Board, will not require major changes to the historic fabric of the buildings and will have a relatively low impact on the neighborhood, while preserving two important buildings.

The agreement requires the developer to complete specific preservation projects that will secure a 50-year future for the buildings. We applaud the developer’s commitment to eight essential rehabilitation projects, including replacing the sanctuary’s roof in slate, a durable material with a life of 75 years to 100 years that will greatly enhance its historic character, and repairing the fragile structure of the bell tower.

The developer has also agreed to conduct masonry repairs on both buildings, replace the entire roof system on the sanctuary, address site drainage, and replace downspouts on the parish hall.

While not included in the agreement, the developer has expressed his desire to professionally restore the historic stained glass, and we encourage his efforts to secure expert advice and implement a plan to do so.

One of the most important elements of the agreement is the performance guarantee. While the city already has included strong language that holds the developer accountable for completing promised preservation projects, at the Planning Board public hearing tonight, Landmarks will ask for several wording changes that will make this crucial performance guarantee even stronger to ensure that the promised rehabilitation work is done.

Because many neighbors have concerns, we recommend including two additional assurances: requirements for continued maintenance of the structures, and a written annual report to the city.

In addition, the agreement outlines the parameters the Planning Board will consider in any future proposal for the use of the community hall. We encourage the developer to work with representatives of the neighborhood, broader community, and potential users to create a management plan for the hall that is sensitive to neighborhood concerns about noise, hours of use, traffic, parking, types of events, etc.

Lastly, the proposed project to preserve Williston West Church and Parish House is consistent with Portland’s comprehensive plan, especially as it will preserve and enhance the city’s architectural and historic heritage and reinforce its distinctive sense of place.

We appreciate the level of interest that this proposal has generated in the preservation of Williston West Church and Parish House. It is a great historic complex, and an essential part of the neighborhood. The buildings represent the high aspirations of the local residents who created them as magnificent civic architecture intended to enrich and enhance community life. Preservation projects can be complex and labor-intensive — and fraught with unknowns, as well as exceptional and beautiful rewards.

Landmarks is encouraged by the stated goals of the developer to “give back” to the community and to preserve great buildings. We believe that this could be a model project that will be a win-win-win for all concerned.

Hilary Bassett is the executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks Inc.