LACONIA — The Zoning Board of Adjustment this week endorsed amendments to the demolition ordinance drafted and recommended by the Heritage Commission and unanimously agreed to refer the proposed to the City Council for its approval.
Pam Clark, who has chaired the Heritage Commission since it was established nine years ago, described the ordinance as a "demolition delay" ordinance, adding that it is modeled on similar regulations in other municipalities, both in New Hampshire and other states. Enacted in 2005, the ordinance is intended to protect and preserve historic buildings slated for demolition by providing time to explore alternatives and, if demolition proceeds, to document the structure and preserve any salvageable remains.
The amendment, which has been more than a year in the drafting, would apply the ordinance to a greater number of properties than hte 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 would also qualify. 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.
Clark told the ZBA that initially the commission sought to petition for a delay of 180 days, but found there was no precedent for such an extended period in New Hampshire.
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.
Clark said that the commission had been asked to consider allowing a property owner to request that a building be exempt from the ordinance, but rejected the notion. She noted that properties are not exempt from other requirements of the zoning ordinance or building code.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders explained that although an intern has compiled of survey of older buildings, it does not represent a registry and bears no relation to the demolition ordinance. The application of the ordinance, she stressed, would be triggered only by applications for demolition permits. Clark said that the commission had reviewed only two properties — the Putnam house and Hathaway house — during her tenure.
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