Biddeford’s move to increase the authority of the historic preservation commission is a step in the right direction.

Last week, the city council gave initial approval to granting more authority to the commission, which means a certificate of appropriateness would be required for any changes to buildings and structures in the Main Street Revitalization District, which includes the downtown, mill district and surrounding neighborhoods. The historic preservation commission currently has only an advisory role.

Under the proposal, major projects would require a full review by the commission, while smaller projects, like new signs, would be reviewed by the city planner and the chairman of the commission. This, city officials say, would streamline the process and allow permission to be granted more quickly than with the current process.

The changes seem like they would be positive and hold everyone in the district to the same standard. The city, going forward, should keep its promise to consider the opinions of people who own buildings in the district. Mayor Alan Casavant said he would appoint someone to the commission to speak for the interests of downtown property owners if the changes are given final approval. This, along with the city staff on the commission, should ensure history is preserved in Biddeford, while business owners are not hampered by rules that are too restrictive.

Some developers have already redeveloped buildings while preserving their historic integrity, like many of the mill projects that have been completed in recent years. Others, however, can make whatever changes to the interior or facade of building that the city’s code currently allows, which could change the look and feel of Biddeford’s downtown.

Requiring a certificate of appropriateness will ensure a review takes place and that the historic aspects of a building are considered when changes are proposed. Several people spoke about the benefits of such considerations at the city council’s discussion of the proposal, including Chris Closs, of Maine Preservation, who touted the economic benefits of strong historic preservation ordinances.

He said cities with strong historic preservation ordinances have more most successful economies. Property values in historic districts also appreciate faster and are less volatile than in other areas of a community, he said, and historic buildings attract people to communities to both live and visit. He also pointed out that state and federal tax credits can be used to restore historic buildings.

Biddeford has a rich history, and with developments like The Mill at Saco Falls and North Dam Mill, business owners have shown it’s possible to build the city’s future while preserving its past.

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Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].