SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors unanimously approved the first reading of two ordinances July 2 that could delay the demolition of historic buildings up to 90 days.

The ordinances, which together create the Historic Adaptive Reuse Special Exception Ordinance, aim to clearly identify historic resources in the community and create incentives for preservation.

South Portland Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny, sitting in for vacationing City Manager Scott Morelli, speaks at the July 2 City Council meeting about an ordinance that would amend zoning for historic preservation. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

They would also provide time to obtain adequate documentation of historic relevance or to discuss preservation options 

The ordinances would also serve as a blueprint for re-purposing historic buildings for new uses. 

The ordinances were considered separately because one would amend land use and zoning and requires a Planning Board public hearing and approval by the council.

Community Planner Justin Barker first discussed the combined proposal in a council workshop April 16. The Planning Board held a hearing for the land use and zoning ordinance on June 12, when it recommended council approval. 

A public hearing and final action on the two ordinances will be held Tuesday, July 16. If approved, the ordinances will go into effect 30 days later. 

The Arts & Historic Preservation Committee also proposed several land use amendments, in response to recent development proposals on properties with potentially historic resources.

Barker said there are more than 400 structures in the city built prior to 1900. Buildings erected before 1940, he said, would be more likely to be considered. 

Barker said the Arts and Historic Preservation Commission would do the initial determination of a home’s historical significance. If it qualifies, the structure would be recommended to the council; if not, the process ends. The ordinance includes further information on delaying permits as well, to allow a 90-day period to seek voluntary preservation on some or all of the structure. 

“This is really well thought-out, it’s really clear a lot of detail was put into the proposed ordinance,” Councilor Kate Lewis said. “It allows us to obtain photographs and documentation before it’s gone, which is so important.” 

Resident Mica Ingram questioned how the rights of property owners would be impacted if someone wanted to tear down a home that was found to have historic value.  

Barker reassured the council and Ingram that the only goal is to document historic locations and offer alternative measures to individuals with historic homes slated for demolition. 

“While we may have slowed down the property rights of one individual, we have not impaired or impeded them,” Mayor Claude Morgan said. “We’re just allowing all parties to gather as much information as they can before it’s lost forever. I think that’s worth the 90-day wait, all day long.” 

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