SOUTH PORTLAND — Ordinances to delay demolition of historic properties and incentivize rehabilitation were met with approval from the South Portland City Council.

The council passed a first reading of the ordinances by unanimous vote on July 2.

The first ordinance, if passed at the next reading, would allow for adaptive reuse of historic properties for purposes different from what would currently be permitted by zoning. The second would establish a waiting period up to 90 days for permits for the demolition of some buildings while their historic value is evaluated by the Planning Board.

The ordinances serve three major purposes, Community Planner Justin Barker said while presenting the ordinances to the council.

“To more clearly identify the histor ic resources that are in the community, to create an incentive to preserve those resources that have been identified, and to institute a delay in the demolition and nonhistoric exterior work of these buildings,” Barker said.

The permit ordinance would apply to those properties designated historical by the AHPC and to those built before 1941. This is approximately 40 percent of properties in South Portland. These properties are mostly concentrated on the east side of town and along the coastline.

The waiting period would not apply to interior work.

Councilor Kate Lewis voiced support for the ordinances. “The demolition delay allows us as a city to learn more about our collective history and heritage, even if the structures are demolished at the end of the waiting period. It allows us to gather information and photographs so that we have the pieces of our history,” Lewis said.

South Portland resident Micah Engber voiced opposition to the waiting period, citing an infringement on property owner rights as a concern.

“A 90-day delay isn’t really fair to any property owner, or developer,” Engber said. “While we do want to preserve historic buildings, we also want to preserve property rights.”

Barker responded that once the board has commented or 90 days has been hit, the owner can proceed as they would normally. They’re not barred from proceeding with their initial plan of operation for the project.

“We’re always weighing the community versus individual,” Mayor Claude Morgon said at the meeting. “We’re pausing. While we may have slowed things down for one assigned property owner, we haven’t impeded their rights. We’re just allowing all parties to gather as much information as possible before it’s gone forever. I think that’s worth 90 days.”

The other ordinance provides an incentive for property owners to preserve the structure of historic buildings.

“It allows historic property owners an opportunity to hang on to them, care for them, and restore them,” Councilor April Caricchio said.

The ordinance incentivizes rehabilitating historic places by allowing applicants to seek special exception to zoning restrictions, allowing for creative reuse of historic buildings. The board would determine, on a case-by-case basis, the compatibility of the proposed use with the underlying zoning in the district.

“For example, an art gallery may be considered a low-impact use that is compatible with a residential zone, whereas a drive-through restaurant is highly unlikely to meet the criteria,” Barker said.

Councilor Kate Lewis said the bill is a creative proposal. “I think this is really well thought out,” Lewis said. “It allows for exceptions to preserve the historic nature of some of these gems in our city, but also to retain the character of some of these neighborhoods.”

Julie Larry represented Greater Portland Landmarks at the meeting.

“We strongly support the proposed zoning amendments,” Larry said. “In 2013 we named all of South Portland’s historic resources to our endangered properties list, ‘Places in Peril,’ due to the lack of protections for historic places in this city. We’re thrilled to see that you’re considering offering incentives to preserve historic buildings.”

There will be a second reading and public hearing of the ordinances at the July 16 city council meeting. If passed at that meeting, they will go into effect 20 days after, on Aug. 6.

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected].

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