Portland’s quality of place contributes to its uniqueness. Compared to sterile-appearing streetscapes in newer American cities, Portland’s rich historical context abounds, providing value in multiple ways. Landmarks like the Munjoy Hill Observatory, Victoria Mansion and the Custom House enhance Portland’s status as a great place. Accordingly, we have preserved and protected those landmarks.

The litmus test for landmark status is simple: “It would be a shame to demolish or alter that building.” Think Central Fire Station and Fort Gorges. The City Council has just been handed a list of landmark recommendations that fail that test.

In one sweeping report, 17 buildings are being suggested along the Forest Avenue corridor, despite the property owners never seeking designation. The constraints and costs that would be foisted upon the owners of these mostly nondescript buildings leave them fearful.

The preservation activists are careful about triggering concerns: “Trust us, this will be good for you.”

Landmark status indeed can be good. Developers routinely seek designation to qualify for tax credits that might provide the difference between a viable project or a loser. The community preserves an irreplaceable historic property, and a good project gets developed. See the McAuley-Mother House project for a recent example of such a win-win.

Everyone in Portland values our history-rich streetscape. But landmark status must be used judiciously. The City Council should thank the preservation activists who crafted the overreaching Forest Avenue recommendation. But the City Council – our policymaking body – should reject it as bad policy.

Christopher O’Neil


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