An Alna resident who specializes in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings is encouraging the town to consider regulations to govern their demolition.
Les Fossel brought a model “historic structure demolition ordinance” to the Alna Planning Board on Nov. 13.
Fossel is a former state representative and selectman who operates Fossel Preservation Partners LLC and Restoration Resources and represents Alna on the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission Board of Directors.
Fossel hopes the ordinance would protect buildings outside those already deemed historic, like the Alna Meetinghouse, Center School, and the Village School at Puddledock.
The model ordinance states its purpose as to give the town and others with interest in historic preservation an opportunity to preserve historic structures under threat, either by acquisition or by proper “recordation” and removal of artifacts.
The ordinance would require a permit for the demolition of all or part of a structure that is either on the National Register of Historic Places, was built before a certain date, or meets other criteria. The model ordinance leaves spaces for the date and the potential additional criteria blank.
The ordinance would mandate a 90-day delay before the granting of such a permit unless the planning board waives the delay.
Fossel said he was prompted to speak to the board because a historic house is now for sale.
“There’s a property in this town that’s for sale, that’s a very historic building, that’s being sold as if there wasn’t a building on it,” Fossel said.
He described the house as a cape on the Sheepscot River, but declined to give more specifics.
Under the ordinance, an applicant would have to post a public notice of a proposal to demolish or remove a structure. In addition, the applicant would have to work with the planning board to consider alternatives to demolition; “recordation” of the structure prior to demolition, including photography and a narrative report; and saving historic artifacts.
The Alna Planning Board would have to forward a copy of the demolition notice to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and Maine Preservation, according to the model ordinance.
Before the board approved issuance of a demolition permit, it would have to find that the demolition would satisfy one or more of four criteria: the physical condition of the building makes maintenance of the building or features of the building uneconomical; the code enforcement officer determines that the building or crucial parts of it pose an immediate hazard to public health or safety with no reasonable solution, the building or parts of it have been changed to a degree that its historical significance was lost, and reuse of the site will be compatible with the character of remaining historic structures in the neighborhood.
“This is not an ordinance to stop anybody from tearing down a building, but it’s trying to make sure they have the information so they don’t do something dumb,” Fossel said. “And one of the things Alna has is a lot of beautiful old buildings and that’s important to our society.”
Board member Peter Tischbein said that in addition to demolition, it might be best to regulate a major remodel, which could also compromise the character of a historic structure.
Second Selectman Ed Pentaleri, who was present at the meeting, said he supports the ordinance and thinks “it’s healthy to have a demolition permit independent of a building permit.”
In addition to historic concerns, older houses should be demolished correctly because of health hazards like asbestos, Pentaleri said.
“You don’t have to (create an ordinance) at all,” Fossel said. “My obligation, because I represent you on the county planning commission, is to say that there is a house in town under threat, and you have a choice here – you can look at something like this to protect these resources or not.”
The planning board said Fossel should go to the Alna Board of Selectmen to talk about the potential for an ordinance.