LACONIA — A new downtown historic district including the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church complex, the railroad station, Veterans Park and the library won approval Wednesday by the Planning Board, which forwarded the issue to the City Council for final action.
The purpose of the district would be to protect historic buildings and regulate changes that would be out of character with the area. A commission would be appointed to administer the district.
Edwin Bones was the only Planning Board member in opposition. He said the district is too small.
“If you want to create a historic district that is going to cover all of Laconia, go right ahead,” he said.
The Diocese of Manchester filed for a demolition permit for the circa-1929 St. Joseph’s Church as part of a plan to sell the property.
After a public outcry, the sale was called off. The diocese said it would subdivide the property into three parcels — the church, the John W. Busiel House, which served as the church rectory, and a school building. In this way, the diocese could sell the two other parcels without disturbing the church.
Tara Shore, operations and program manager at the Belknap Mill, has been involved in efforts to save the church and create a historic district.
“Establishing a historic overlay district is one of the best ways to protect buildings, streetscapes and neighborhoods from inappropriate alterations and incompatible new construction, as well as outright demolition,” she told the Planning Board.
“It does not freeze an area in time, rather it is about guiding change and preserving community character as an area grows and evolves.”
She said there are more than 60 historic districts in the state, including a longstanding one in Gilford.
Jane Whitehead, chairwoman of the Heritage Commission, also spoke in favor of creating a historic district.
“The bottom line here is that historic districts tend to bring financial benefit and prosperity to a zone or town when implemented,” Whitehead said.
She said that, without the district, there is nothing to protect the Busiel House, a mansion built for a textile mill owner in 1865, or the railroad station, built in 1892. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places.
“If somebody wanted to buy the Busiel House and tear it down, there would be nothing that could be done to save it,” she said. “Also, the train station, which is commercial property, if someone wants to tear down that beautiful porte cochere and put up golden arches, there would be no way we could stop them.”