PORTLAND — A city plan to designate 15 buildings as historic structures encountered strong opposition from the buildings’ owners April 3.

“If you could kindly not choose that building. We have done nothing wrong and we do not want another layer of government to put more restrictions on us,” Michael Kaplan said during the Historic Preservation Board’s first workshop on plans to preserve portions of the corridor stretching from Bedford Street to Woodfords Corner.

Kaplan, the owner of the former Engine No. 8 fire station at 536 Deering Ave., now home to the Big Sky Bread Co., said his work restored a building that was near ruin. But ultimately, he said, he wants the flexibility to preserve the structure as he sees fit.

As presented by Historic Preservation Program Manager Deb Andrews, the city could seek designations in the city’s historic preservation ordinance for the buildings that dot the corridor and represent how the area developed a century ago.

The designations, either as individual landmarks or in smaller districts, would give the city and possibly the HPB more oversight on development to ensure the historic integrity of the buildings are preserved. 

The designations require City Council approval, and Andrews said she would also ask the Planning Board for its input and recommendations, although those are not needed for individual landmark designations.

The future of the Forest Avenue corridor has been in play for several years. Woodfords Corner, the convergence of Forest and Deering avenues and Woodfords Street, was given a $5.65 million renovation last year that covered roads and sidewalks, as well as public art installations in front of the Odd Fellows Hall.

Three years ago, the potential sale of several buildings in the 500 block of Forest Avenue led councilors to ban drive-thru service in order to block the construction of a CVS Pharmacy.

All those buildings, plus the Oakhurst Dairy, and the present home of Woodford Food & Beverage are considered for historic designations, Andrews said.

“We want to be upfront about what buildings we want to retain rather than being reactive,” Andrews said. “We want to put everybody on notice and think creatively and positively about those buildings.”

Several of the Forest Avenue buildings near Preble Street Extension were home to the expanding auto sales industry about a century ago, but Palmer Spring Co. owner David Weeks objected to his 355 Forest Ave. building getting a historic designation.

“Our building does not have sufficient integrity (for designation),” he said. Weeks had been ready to sell to CVS in 2016, and said last month the zoning changes had hampered his ability to sell to anyone.

Weeks added a 2016 review of the properties on the block showed his would not merit consideration for the National Register of Historic Places.

Andrews and board member Penny Pollard each said owners should not consider the designations as punitive.

Andrews estimated 70 percent of the applications for repairing, improving or renovating historic buildings are handled administratively by the city without HPB consideration.

“It is rarely whether you can do something, it is how you do something,” she said.

Adam and Sheila Nappi, owners of 495 Forest Ave., once a Packard dealership, were wary. The building is now home to Bow Street Beverage.

“These buildings are assets, and we appreciate the historical integrity of them. However, we should have a say in how our building is designated … ,” Sheila Nappi said.

The HPB will host another workshop on the plan, but members said they would also like to hear more from city staff about the overall vision for redesigning the corridor.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The Odd Fellows Block on Forest Avenue at Woodfords Corner is one of 15 area buildings Portland is considering for historic designation.

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