Like most residents of Portland, I’m proud of the historic significance of our city, and believe it is one of the elements that make Portland such an amazing place to live and work.

Our historic architecture and the many public spaces we all celebrate help to give Portland its unique identity.

I am a longtime advocate of historic preservation, not just in theory, but also in practice, by supporting Greater Portland Landmarks, as well as completing a number of historic restorations myself for more than 39 years. I have had the opportunity to renovate many of Portland’s most significant buildings.

But I have serious concerns about the recent push for historic districts in Portland, both because of the size and scope of these proposed districts, as well as the burden they present to residents and landowners in our city.

It’s one thing to identify historic buildings or public spaces with established historical significance as landmarks throughout the city. I have long supported this effort. These structures and spaces are easily identifiable, and many Portlanders would recognize their historic significance well before it’s dictated by a board.

But it’s another thing to create entire districts that encompass acres of private properties, both historic and non-historic, inclusive of undeveloped land, parking lots and open space, and then hand control over to the Historic Preservation Board without any connection to the underlying zoning or comprehensive plan.


To be clear: When your property is within the boundary of a historic district, Historic Preservation Board oversight exists, whether or not your particular property is deemed historic. What is next – all of Munjoy Hill?

There’s no question that we must preserve the integrity of neighborhoods, but we also must recognize that a city must be allowed to change, to grow and to welcome new people into the community. Otherwise, we risk shutting ourselves off and limiting our city to the wealthy few instead of creating a community where everyone can have a chance to live, work and prosper.

The 58 Fore St. property has been subject to an extensive Historic Preservation Board review over the past six months, including a historical building inventory, a historical significance and integrity report, two independent structural reports, three public workshops, two tours of the property and two public hearings. The process has been thorough and exhaustive.

Recently, the board unanimously recommended that eight of the buildings of the former Portland Co. met the standards of historical significance and also retained sufficient structural integrity for adaptive reuse.

The footprint of the eight buildings the board is recommending for restoration is about 1 acre of the property, and represents the buildings and spaces locals would associate with the Portland Co. today.

However, the historic district boundary, as recommended by the board, is more than three times the footprint of the historic buildings to be restored.


If left to the Historic Preservation Board, it would control the future redevelopment for more than a third of the whole property. In essence, the board becomes the master planner and architect for the site.

I’ve never talked to a single person who doesn’t want to preserve Portland’s history, but we need a balanced approach that allows our city to grow and adapt. Not every old building is historically significant, and historic districts have limits to their effectiveness.

Recently, the Portland Co. redevelopment team revealed concepts showing a beautiful public plaza from Fore Street to the waterfront, highlighting the oldest and most historically significant building on the site, Building 2, built by John Poore in 1847.

This concept plan aligns with the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan by balancing the adaptive reuse of historic buildings with a focus on public access to the waterfront and public benefit.

Historic preservation is about restoring the most historically significant structures, while balancing the interests of the entire community and promoting thoughtful growth.

If the Historic Preservation Board is allowed to unilaterally control expansive sections of our city, how are we to build the landmarks of the future? We could find ourselves focused intently on the past, with no eye for the future.


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