The Odd Fellows Block, left, and Chapman Block at Woodfords Corner are two of the properties along Forest Avenue that the Portland Historic Preservation Board has designated as locally significant landmarks. A council decision on the designation is expected next month. File photo

PORTLAND — After hearing vocal opposition from property owners, the City Council decided not to designate 17 properties between along Forest Avenue between Interstate 295 and Woodfords Corner as historically significant

At least, not yet.

Portland’s historic preservation board has recommended designating the home of Woodford Food & Beverage at 660 Forest Ave. as a local landmark because of its mid-century modern architecture. File photo

The council is postponing its decision until Oct. 21 to flesh out what the designation might mean for redevelopment in the area. Councilors on Monday said they also want to hear additional comments from those property owners who don’t want the designation.

Acting Planning and Urban Development Director Christine Grimando said historic preservation doesn’t prevent property owners from expanding, renovating or rehabilitating their properties and can be an effective economic and community development strategy.

The Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously July 24 to support designation for all 17 properties and pass the item on to the council.

Board member Penny Pollard said the buildings “represent  key chapters in the history of the area.”

Several of the buildings up for landmark consideration, including  343-349, 495, 501, 517-533 and 630 Forest Ave., were built and operated as auto dealerships or offered auto supplies and services during a time when the area was known as Portland’s Auto Row.

Other properties up for consideration served another need for the community – including the former A&P grocery store at 617 Forest Ave. and the former Engine 8 firehouse at 536 Deering Ave. – or are recommended because of their architectural elements, including the Odd Fellows Block at 643-651 Forest Ave., Chapman Block at 648 Forest Ave. and 660 Forest Ave., the former home of corporate offices for the Valle’s Steak House chain of restaurants.

“Without protection, it is left up to chance whether this unique area will maintain its distinct character and appeal,” Pollard said.

Several owners of the affected properties told councilors Monday that they don’t want their buildings listed as historically significant. Once on the historic preservation list, alterations to the building would have to be reviewed through the historic preservation ordinance, a layer of review some owners along Forest Avenue don’t want.

Nate Cermelj of Liberty Bay Recovery Center at 343 Forest Ave. said he fears the historic designation may hamper his ability to expand or make changes to the facility to treat more individuals for drug and alcohol abuse.

Julie Weeks, owner of Palmer Spring Company at 355 Forest Ave., simply doesn’t see her building as historically significant.

“The Historic Preservation Board is overstepping and trying to take control over our building,” she said. “We don’t want them telling us what we can and can’t do.”

Mike Kaplan, who purchased 536 Deering Ave. from the city 27 years ago, wants his building removed from the list. He said he and the owners of Big Sky Bakery, his tenant for the last quarter-century, have done a good job making the former fire station the building it is today and don’t need any interference from the city.

“We are asking our building not have extra layers of government (review),” he said.

Built in 1927 as part of the redevelopment of Ricker Estate, 495 Forest Ave. was once home to one of the many automobile-related businesses that sprung up on the road between World War I and the Great Depression. File

Adam Nappi, owner of 495 Forest Ave., said property owners consistently pleaded with Historic Preservation Board members to give property owners the right to opt-out, but that was ignored.

Some see merit in designating these properties as historic, including Sarah Hanson, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks and Kate O’Brien, a resident of Woodfords Corner who has worked in community and economic development for the last 20 years.

“In a professional in this field, historic preservation has a proven track record in promoting community and economic development by creating jobs new jobs and preserving historic buildings and bringing a new vitality to our communities,” she said.

 

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