LACONIA — A downtown historic district, including St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the John W. Busiel House, the railroad station, and the library, was approved by the City Council on Monday.
Councilors decided not to include a church school building in the district.
The Busiel House, which served as the church rectory, is a mansion built for a textile mill owner in 1865. The Laconia passenger station was built in 1892. The Gale Memorial Library was built in 1903. All three are on the National Register of Historic Places. St. Joseph’s Church dates to 1929.
City property records indicate that Holy Trinity School was built adjacent to the church in 1972. It doesn’t have the historic value of the other structures, but Jane Whitehead, chairwoman of the Heritage Commission, said it was important to include the school in the district.
“The historic district is not just about the buildings, it is about the fabric,” she said. “It’s maintaining the character of the area. Yes, that school is part of the character of that area.
“A buyer can renovate it and use it, but I think what we want to prevent is a Dollar General or a car wash, something that is out of character with the historic center of Laconia.”
The Diocese of Manchester is subdividing the property into three parcels, one for the church, one for the Busiel House, and one for the school.
After applying for a demolition permit for the church, there was a public outcry and the diocese indicated a desire to preserve the church while potentially selling the other parcels.
Mayor Ed Engler said the diocese could have greater flexibility to do such a sale if the school building was not in a historic district.
“I think an argument can be made that the diocese doesn’t want to keep that building,” Engler said. “They want to sell it, and restrictions that you put on that building in terms of looks, one could argue, will greatly restrict what a potential new owner can do with that building.”
Since it applied for the permit before the historic district formed, the diocese is not bound by district regulations. Also, because the city owns the library, it is not subject to the regulations.
If the buildings are sold, any future owners would be bound by the regulations.
Under the ordinance approved by the City Council, the council will appoint a commission to supervise the district. The commission will review applications for zoning amendments, variances, conditional uses, and other approvals affecting property within the district.
For buildings covered under the district, approval from the commission will be required for modifications to exterior architectural appearance of structures, erection of new structures, and demolition.