LACONIA — City Councilors agreed on Tuesday to consider establishing a Historic District Commission to protect some of the oldest structures in the area, including St. Joseph Church, which is slated to be demolished.
Backers of preserving the church packed the City Council chambers to seek such a commission.
A City Council committee will consider the request in a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 3.
Bishop Peter Libasci has decided to raze the 1929 church before selling the property. He has not revealed the name of the buyer.
City Councilors on Tuesday also ordered City Manager Scott Myers to write a letter to church leaders asking for the buyer's name so the city can understand what the property will be used for and asking for the cost of demolition to see if there are other options.
Tara Shore, program and operations manager at Belknap Mill, spoke on behalf of a group that wants to save the church.
“The announcement that St. Joseph’s Church is targeted for demolition is a sad reminder of what this city experienced during urban renewal during the 1970s,” she said. “We must remember that, once a monument of this city’s heritage and culture is destroyed, it is gone forever.
“Historic preservation is not always the easy path, but it is often the right path to ensure the integrity and future of our community’s culture.”
Jane Whitehead, chairman of the Laconia Heritage Commission, said districts set up to preserve historic areas often raise property values.
She said that even buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places can be lost if they are not in such a district.
“A district maintains more than the individual sterile buildings, it would maintain the character of the entire zone, the open spaces, the views,” she said.
Rep. Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, who owns an antique center in downtown Laconia, said that, aside from the church, other historic buildings in the area, including the library and the train station, could one day be destroyed if a district is not created.
“Anything is possible without this being in place,” he said. “I think we have a duty to the future, not to the past, to protect what is so important to history.”
Mayor Ed Engler was not at the Tuesday night City Council meeting. He was recently released from a hospital following medical treatment.
He said a historic district commission “is worth taking a look at.
“It’s not a step to be hurried, there are a lot of potential consequences.”
Engler said personal property rights must be considered and that, if a commission were created, it could potentially have sway over hundreds of buildings, down to small details of repair and construction.