LACONIA — When the Heritage Commission presented its recommendations for amending the demolition ordinance to protect historic properties to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) on Monday night, Steve Bogert, chairman of the board, questioned the wisdom of applying the ordinance without an inventory of the properties that would be subject to it.
The Heritage Commission seeks to amend the demolition ordinance to apply to a greater number of properties and allow more time to explore alternatives to demolition. While the original ordinance applied to buildings 75 years old and older, the amendment would reduce the age of significant buildings to 50 years. At the same time, a provision of the original ordinance requiring that the property be visible from a public street would be stricken.
The ordinance would apply to "significant buildings," which it defines by four criteria. A significant building must be one with features and qualities meeting the national or state standards for "a historical, cultural or architectural landmark." Buildings constructed to an uncommon design with unusual materials that could only be reproduced at great expense would also qualify. The ordinance would also extend to buildings of such architectural value or historic interest that their demolition would be adverse to the public interest as well as to buildings whose preservation would preserve a place of historic character and value.
The ordinance would be triggered when a property owner applied to demolish a building, at which point the Heritage Commission would determine if it qualified as a "significant building".
Bogert asked if the commission had a list of "significant buildings" and, on learning it did not, expressed concern that property owners would not learn that their properties were subject to the ordinance before acquiring them. The ordinance authorizes the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the City Council, to delay razing a "significant building" for more than 180 days while alternatives to demolition are explored and pursued.
Bogert suggested that "significant buildings" should be identified, inventoried and designated, perhaps on the tax card, so that prospective buyers would know the properties are subject to the ordinance before acquiring one. He said the status of the property would be discovered in the course of due diligence.
Pam Clark, who chairs the Heritage Commission, told the board that $500 has been budgeted for a stipend for an intern who could begin surveying properties this summer. However, she cautioned that with such sparse resources the commission was not able to prepare the kind of inventory Bogert envisioned.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that the proposal is modeled on ordinances adopted by municipalities elsewhere in New Hampshire and New England.
Despite Bogert's reservations, the ZBA endorsed the commission's proposal, which will be forwarded to the City Council. Bogert expected the council to hold a public hearing and said "I would hope the that the real estate community will show up and contribute to the discussion."