The Odd Fellows Block at Woodfords Corner is one of five properties designated as historical landmarks by the City Council. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to designate five properties on Forest Avenue, including the Odd Fellows Block with its high-reaching clock tower, as historical landmarks. That’s 12 fewer than originally proposed.

Councilors decided to focus preservation efforts on buildings clustered at Woodfords Corner, rather than designating others along the traffic corridor leading to Interstate 295.

The move comes after many affected property owners urged the council during a previous meeting not to designate their buildings as landmarks, saying it would infringe on their private property rights and would only add costs and delay efforts to maintain and improve their buildings. That prompted the council to delay action and hold a subsequent workshop before Monday night’s vote.

City Councilor Kimberly Cook proposed the amendment to designate only the following Forest Avenue properties: Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Store at 617, the former Darling-Kidder Motor Co. at 630, Odd Fellows Block at 643-651, the Chapman Block at 648 and the former Valle’s Sandwich Shop at 660 Forest Ave.

Cook urged the council not to include the former Engine Co. 8 Firehouse on Deering Avenue that was renovated in the 1990s by the current owner, Michael Kaplan, who purchased the building from the city after letting it fall into disrepair.

Kaplan was given a preservation award from Greater Portland Landmarks and opposed having his building designated as a landmark.

“I use the straight-face test on some of these,” said Cook, adding that Kaplan had pulled this building “out of the jaws of condemnation under the city’s watch.”

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.

City Councilor Belinda Ray tried unsuccessfully to add several other buildings to the designation list, citing the benefits of preservation. “The places people cherish are the places that have been preserved to some extent,” she said.

Ray noted that city staff had carefully selected only the buildings that spoke to the area’s history, rather than designating the entire area as a historic preservation district.

That corridor is known to preservationists as “auto row,” because the city’s first car dealerships were there.

“This is not a used car negotiation where they’re coming in high and we come in low and then find somewhere in the middle,” she said. “They believe all 17 of these structures deserve to be preserved and I tend to agree.”

Her amendments to add two buildings – the firehouse and former A.S. Hinds Laboratory Building at 331 Forest Ave – were defeated 4-4, with City Councilor Pious Ali absent.

She also proposed adding the Oakhurst Dairy building at 364 Forest Ave., but that failed 2-5, with Mayor Ethan Strimling in support and City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau recused because his firm is represented the company.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said he had received a lot feedback on both sides of debate. But he was persuaded by arguments that the landmark designations could hinder efforts to create housing along the corridor, which is a long-standing goal of the city.

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