Rockland demolition moratorium gives future to city’s historic commission

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 5:45pm

ROCKLAND – One burden has been lessened for the fledgling Rockland Historic Preservation Commission as it continues its work to identify local landmarks within the Downtown District and Tillson Avenue area overlay zone.

The measure granted to the commission came with hesitancy by some city officials, who recalled the origin of the request, as well as questioned the measure’s future effectiveness.

Monday, Jan. 11, City Council voted 4 – 1 (Louise MacLellan-Ruf dissenting) to enact a 180-day moratorium on any building demolition within that Downtown area.

“[The intent is] simply to give the historic preservation commission a bit of a runway to start this process,” said Councilor Ben Dorr.

According to Council, the request for moratorium came as a reaction to news in November that the owner of 279 Main Street planned to demolish part of her structure at the corner of Park and Main streets.

“That’s not how city government should operate – by trying to put band aids or quick fixes on to things,” said Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf, who was not yet on Council when plans for the demolition first came to the city’s attention.

The request for demolition was rescinded following the building’s purchase by a new owner with intent to keep the structure standing. Due to that retraction, Council removed language from the moratorium that would have made the moratorium effective November 5, 2020, as a way to include 279 Main (aka “the Sear’s building”) standing.

True historic recognition on a national level takes many months, if not years, to accomplish, according to MacLellan. It’s a different “ball of wax” from placing a moratorium on demolition of buildings, she said.

Regardless, members of the commission plan to take this winter and early spring to research and fill out historic survey sheets for buildings in the Downtown/Tillson zones that they feel are significant enough to be designated as local landmarks, according to Ann Morris, Chair of the Commission, during the Dec. 14 City Council meeting. 

When ready, the commission will either begin the process of designating those buildings as local landmarks, or begin the process to create a local historic district. No designations will be assigned before the Commission holds a public hearing with the property owners. Following public input, City Council will be asked to amend the local registry to add the new designation. 

Councilor Nate Davis said he had no strong feeling either way on the moratorium.

“I agree it may take awhile for any buildings to actually be listed on these official registers,” he said. “But, by the same token, I don’t have any objection to giving the commission a little time to do its work.”