Michael Kaplan and his son Jason pose for a photo in front of the building they own on Deering Avenue in Portland. The building is home to Big Sky Bread Co., which has rented it from Kaplan since he renovated the building after buying it in 1992. Kaplan opposes the city’s proposal to register it as a historic landmark. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Several property owners along Forest Avenue and within Woodfords Corner are pushing back against the city of Portland’s efforts to designate their buildings as historic landmarks.

City officials and preservationists say the designations between Interstate 295 and Woodfords Corner are needed to preserve the remnants of what was once the city’s “auto row,” where some of the first auto dealerships and showrooms were located, and could free up historic tax credits for renovations.

But several property owners say they’re not interested in participating in that program, which will only add a layer of bureaucracy and increase costs for maintenance and restrict the types of upgrades that can be made to buildings. They want to maintain control over their buildings.

“In effect it’s a taking,” said David Weeks, owner of the Palmer Spring Co.

The proposal comes at a time of rapid development in the city, especially on the peninsula, where demolitions have increased calls for stronger preservation. City officials are currently working on a plan to create a new historic district on part of Munjoy Hill, after having created historic districts along India Street and for the former Portland Co.

Historic districts cover a certain geographic area and include contributing buildings that are protected. Districts also include noncontributing buildings, which are not protected. And landmark designations are made only for specific buildings.

The City Council is due to vote Monday on whether to designate 17 buildings as historic landmarks, including the Odd Fellows and Chapman Blocks at Woodfords Corner.

But City Councilor Kimberly Cook said that she plans on offering an amendment that would remove Oakhurst Dairy from the list after speaking with the company, which employs over 100 people on Forest Avenue.

Cook said she may make additional amendments, as well, saying the council should take into consideration a landowner’s opinions.

“It shouldn’t necessarily be the only thing we consider, but I do think it’s an important factor,” Cook said. “To me, it’s not just government that is the only way forward in terms of protecting historic resources.”

The designations are supported by both Greater Portland Landmarks and the Friends of Woodfords Corner.

Julie Larry, advocacy director for Landmarks, said that property owners should not view the designations as a punishment.

“As several of the business owners have pointed out, they are doing excellent work to maintain or improve buildings,” Larry said in a letter to the city. “The intent of landmark designation is not to penalize them, but to celebrate their good stewardship and identify these landmarks as buildings of value in our city’s streetscapes.”

Once designated as a landmark, certain improvements or changes to the building will need to be reviewed by the city’s historic preservation manager and/or the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which is appointed by the City Council.

A staff memo to city councilors says that property owners would still be able to redevelop their properties by either adding floors that are set back from the building facade, or by replacing nonhistoric rear additions.

“They act like they are helping us and we should be happy,” said Julie Weeks, wife of David Weeks. “We don’t know a single building owner who wants this.”

In a letter to the council, the Friends of Woodfords Corner said the designation is their ongoing effort to breathe life into the corner. Earlier this year, the group joined Maine Downtown Center, which is a preservation-based economic development program.

“Historic preservation has a proven track record of promoting community and economic development by creating jobs, preserving historic buildings, bringing new vitalities to our communities,” the group said. “This designation, and the tax credit, have enabled a flexible approach to preservation that has stimulated significant economic growth through private investment and the creation of new jobs.”

But property owners like Michael Kaplan see the designation as a way for the city to micromanage their property.

Kaplan said he bought 536 Deering Ave. from the city in 1994. The building housed the Engine 8 Fire Co. from 1907 to 1967, according to historical information provided by the city. The city rented the building to the Children’s Theatre of Maine in 1971 for a period of five years.

Kaplan said the building was boarded up, with holes in every floor – from the roof to the basement. He said the pipes were all cracked and the walls were moldy. But he worked with the owners of Big Sky Bread Co. to fix up the building. He still has the award he received from Greater Portland Landmarks in 1995. And Big Sky continues to operate there.

“You could be in the basement, look up through the first floor, look up through the second floor, look out through the roof and see the sky and there wasn’t a window that wasn’t boarded up,” Kaplan said. “That’s how (the city) maintained it. Now, 27 years later, they want to micromanage the building.”

John Bennett, president of Oakhurst Dairy, said in an email to councilors that being designated as an historic landmark could negatively impact the business.

“Restrictions, costly delays, and limitations that come with such a designation could affect any type of repairs or maintenance,” Bennett said. “Oakhurst has been a good corporate citizen of Portland and a good neighbor to those residents and businesses around us for almost 100 years at this location, and we have no plans to change our goal to remain sensitive to our status and surroundings in the future.”

David Weeks said he bought 355 Forest Ave. in 1996, but the building has housed Palmer Spring Co. since 1932. He questioned the historic integrity of the building, saying the signature orange facade was added in the 1970s.

Weeks hopes to get a fair hearing before the council.

“They should be listening to us,” Weeks said. “They should care about what we want and need.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.