The Old Meeting House, a Baptist church constructed in 1796 and located on Hillside Street in Yarmouth, is one of the town’s 10 landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

Yarmouth Town Council will soon decide on a local historic preservation ordinance that would protect historic structures from demolition.

“We won’t be telling people what color to paint their house,” Ed Ashley, who serves on the town’s Historic Resources Steering Committee, said. “This will be about preventing irreversible damage.”

The measure is aimed at a collaboration between local building owners and a five-member committee of residents who have historical and architectural knowledge to find exterior design changes that fit with the town’s historic character, Director of Planning and Development Erin Zwirko said.

The committee would offer advice on exterior building changes but not make any binding decisions.

The proposed ordinance would formally establish 10 historic landmarks that are already on the National Register of Historic Places in three historic districts. Some of the landmarks include the Old Meeting House, North Yarmouth Academy’s Russell Hall and Academy Hall and the Ammi R. Mitchell House.

Under the ordinance, the landmarks, as well as buildings in the Upper Village, Lower Village and Royal River Manufacturing Historic Districts that contribute to the districts’ historic appearances, could not be demolished.

Changes the proposed committee would advise on include exterior changes to existing structures visible from the street or public open space, all new construction, and all exterior changes to the 10 historic landmarks. This may include changes to roofing, siding, windows, porches or doors, Zwirko said.

Recent developments continue to showcase how residents feel about construction that doesn’t fit with the town’s historic character. A mixed-use building planned for 298 Main St. that received preliminary planning board approval June 9, but not before public feedback about the exterior led to four different iterations of the planned design, Ashley said. The proposed committee would help navigate some of these challenges.

The most recent design planned for 298 Main St. has an exterior that is more in line with the town’s historic appearance. Contributed / Historic Resources Steering Committee

An early design of a mixed-use residential and commercial building planned for 298 Main St. Contributed / Historic Resources Steering Committee

Some councilors were supportive of the committee being strictly advisory, with no authority to dictate what building owners can and can’t do with their exteriors.

Councilor Randall Bates said he was “absolutely against” a regulatory process and emphasized that the required steps should take as little time as possible. Zwirko said the process of submitting an application until the planning board grants approval would take about three months in total with the committee’s recommendations.

“The cost of housing is rising,” said Councilor Rob Waeldner. “If we make it regulatory this is just one more thing that would make housing less affordable.”

Others said they wanted to see the proposal go a step further.

“The entire purpose is to encourage homeowners to preserve the historic character of Yarmouth,” Vice Chairperson Timothy Shannon said. “There’s a public interest at stake here.”

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in at an Aug. 19 council meeting.

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