Letter to the editor: Why no teeth?

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 8:00pm

Rockland City Council is about to consider an ordinance for historic preservation. At first it will have no teeth. That delights some people and scares others. This is a common reaction.  Rockland has a few buildings and some sections of Rockland that are labeled historic or important but there is no process to protect these properties from thoughtless changes. Some people like it that way. Others fear we will lose Rockland’s architectural heritage unless we adopt a strong historic preservation ordinance. 

The curator of the Rockland Historical Society with several citizens shared ideas about how an ordinance might be written for Rockland. Lots of places have historic preservation ordinances that are very restrictive. These did not seem to fit the independent spirit of our citizens. Compiling a comprehensive list of Rockland properties deserving preservation seemed to be a good first step. That will take time and people volunteering to do that. In the ordinance, the City is asked to form a Historic Preservation Commission to begin that process of identification and to create a preservation manual specific to Rockland. 

The proposed ordinance outlines a process for owners of significant properties to use when considering changes to their properties. It begins with the Rockland Code Enforcement Office. The ordinance is worth reading because it has a lot of definitions of terms and describes what can and cannot be done to a historic property. (Yes, you will continue to be free to choose the paint colors you like.) But nothing goes into effect until a commission is formed and a Rockland-specific manual is provided to the public.  

So, no teeth for now and a few teeth after the commission is formed and a manual is public. If the Council in a couple of years decides more teeth are appropriate, that might merit grant applications. If Rockland eventually adopts some national and state standards, the City could apply for grants to provide money to property owners of historic properties. But, in a city of independent-minded citizens, it may take time to fully agree on what are the right teeth for protection of heritage and grant qualification, and not teeth that bite too deep into individual freedoms.

Connie Hayes lives in Rockland