LACONIA — With little discussion, the City Council last night adopted an amendment to the demolition ordinance recommended by the Heritage Commission, which is intended to afford greater protection to historic buildings in the city.
The amendment, which has been 18 months in the drafting, would apply the ordinance to a greater number of properties than the current law and provide more time to explore alternatives to demolition. The ordinance applies to buildings at least 50 years old and demolition of more than 700-square-feet of floor area, which in the judgment of the code enforcement officer qualify as "significant buildings."
To qualify as "significant" a building must satisfy at least one of the four following criteria. First, it must possess features and qualities that would qualify it as "a historical, cultural or architectural landmark" by national or state standards. Second, it must be constructed to an uncommon design or with unusual materials that could only be reproduced with great difficulty and at great expense. Third, buildings of such architectural value or historic importance that their demolition would adversely impact the public interest would qualify. And finally the preservation of the building must contribute to protecting and preserving a place or area of historic interest.
The remainder of the ordinance prescribes the process triggered when an application is made to demolish a building. First, the code enforcement officer shall determine if the building qualifies as "significant". If it qualifies, the applicant must be informed within five business days that the application for a demolition permit must be reviewed by the Heritage Commission at its next regularly scheduled meeting before the building can be razed.
If the commission determines the building to be demolished is not significant, the applicant shall be informed and the demolition may proceed. On the other hand, if the commission determines the building is "significant" it shall schedule a public hearing at its next monthly meeting, of which the applicant will be informed within two business days. In addition the date, time and place of the hearing will be noticed by signage on the building and in the local newspaper.
If an alternative to demolition cannot be agreed at the public hearing, the commission and applicant shall meet within 10 days. If still no agreement about the future of the building can be reached, the commission may petition the City Council to defer issuance of the demolition permit for another 60 days to allow time to pursue alternatives, including acquisition or relocation of the building. When all options have been exhausted, the owner of the property may proceed with demolition. With the consent of the owner the commission shall photograph the building and encourage salvage of its significant features.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) asked Pam Clark, who chairs the Heritage Commission, if there is an inventory of "significant" buildings, indicating that he was concerned to avoid a situation in which someone purchased a property with the intent of demolishing only to discover afterwards it was subject to the ordinance. Clark said that there is not such a list, but during her eight years on the commission only twice have public hearings been held and demolition permits delayed. She said that surveys are being taken downtown, in Lakeport and at The Weirs and expected a list of the most significant buildings in each neighborhood would be identified.
Since the Zoning Board of Adjustment, taking the place of the Building Code Board of Appeals, held two public hearings on the proposal, the council chose to adopt it without holding another public hearing.
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