YARMOUTH —  A controversial proposal for local historic preservation continues as plans to demolish and rebuild a Main Street property advances.

A proposed ordinance requiring review before the exteriors of historic properties could be altered drew sharp criticism at the Oct. 21 Planning Board meeting. The majority of board members and Yarmouth residents who spoke were concerned about the strict nature of the ordinance. 

If passed, homeowners in historic districts would need to get approval from an as-yet-to-be-created Historic Preservation Board before replacing windows or doors, rebuilding a porch, adding a new driveway or other exterior changes that would be visible from the street. It would not include painting, interior changes, or ordinary maintenance. The board would have jurisdiction over renovations in the Upper Village District, the Lower Village District and the Royal River Manufacturing Company District (Bridge Street and Sparhawk Mill area).

Jaegerman

Fewer than a dozen communities in Maine have the level of restrictions the town of Yarmouth is looking at, according to Alex Jaegerman, director of Planning and Development.  

Planners are also considering a proposal by developers Matt Teare, Rob Barrett and Tamson Bickford Hamrock to tear down the main structure and additions at 298 Main St. and replace it with a four-story, 21,000-square-foot building with commercial space on the first floor and 16 condominiums on the upper floors.  

The Railroad Square project, also led by developers Tamson Bickford Hamrock, would encompass the entrance and parking made available by the 298 Main St. development. It would include four to five acres adjacent to Main Street.  

Maine Department of Transportation is considering the proposal for the Railroad Square Project, which includes relocating or removing the unused railroad crossing gates to improve access to the site, creating a bike and pedestrian crossing between the Train Depot and Railroad Pavilion, and establishing a multi-use path along the rail corridor from the end of Cleaves Street to Main Street.  

Tom Bell, who has lived on Main Street for over 20 years, referenced 298 Main St. when making his argument for the historic preservation ordinance at the Oct. 23 meeting.

“That used to be three buildings and over time property owners changed it and mutated it with poor quality, what they considered modern, materials on it,” Bell said. “Today the building has zero value. And that’s why the new owner plans to demolish it. Imagine if those buildings had been protected – they would have a lot more integrity and they’d be more valuable today.”

The building at 298 Main St. in Yarmouth is slated for demolition. Contributed

Rob Anderson, who lives in a historic home, said at the Planning Board meeting, “I’m worried that there’s going to be a small group of people deciding how I’m going to be spending money on my house,” Anderson said. “It just seems very invasive.” 

Conserving Yarmouth’s historic character was identified as “one of five key topics facing the Town” in Yarmouth’s 2010 Comprehensive plan, according to the town’s website. Since then, a conservation plan has developed in phases, starting in 2017 with an architectural survey of Yarmouth’s Village area, where 773 structures were considered. In 2018, a Building Demolition Ordinance was approved to temporarily halt any destruction of historic properties. The results of the architectural survey were presented to the public in April 2019, followed by the creation of the historic preservation ordinance by the HRSC. 

Evaluation of the individual structures’ historic significance was based on the National Register Criteria for designation of historic properties.  

Additional background information on the Historic Preservation ordinance can be found at https://yarmouth.me.us/historicproperty. 

The Planning Board will be discussing 298 Main St. and the Railroad Square project Dec. 9. 

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