ROCKLAND, Maine — Ann Morris, curator of the Rockland Historical Society, knows there is architecture spanning centuries that is worth preserving in the coastal city.
But she also knows property owners don’t always like being told what to do with their homes or buildings.
Morris believes the historic preservation ordinance she helped draft strikes a balance between both interests by focusing on education, not regulation.
“People are always worried about government telling them what to do with their own property,” Morriss said. “Historic preservation is always a balance between private property rights and the right of a community to try to preserve the landmarks they love.”
The proposed ordinance aims to prevent historic buildings and homes from undergoing major changes that would take away from the historic significance of the structure. If passed, the ordinance would require plans for major changes to homes or buildings within designated historic districts to go before a historic preservation commision, which would offer suggestions on how to make the changes in a way that preserves historical integrity.
However, after property owners hear the suggestions, they can choose to follow the recommendations or continue with other plans.
This “means that our ordinance [if passed], instead of having regulations, is going to be an educational tool,” Morris said. “It’s going to teach residents what are the really important defining characteristics that should be retained when they’re making improvements.”
City councilors will review a revised version of the ordinance at their Nov. 14 meeting. The ordinance was initially considered in September but was amended to remove a list of prospective places in the city that would be designated as historic districts or landmarks. Under the revised ordinance, the districts or landmarks would be determined by a yet-to-be established seven-member historic preservation commission after a review process.
Councilor Adam Ackor, whose term expires this year, sponsored the ordinance. Ackor said Rockland has a number of interesting historic homes and buildings as well as a historic Main Street. With the city’s identity being tied to its history, putting an ordinance in place to preserve some of that history “seems like a logical and intelligent step to take,” Ackor said in an email.
“I think the ordinance aspires to appeal to the community’s sense of pride in its history as well as its sense of obligation to preserve,” Ackor said. “What the ordinance is not is rigid or punitive or mandatory. Owners can opt out and do as they wish with their property.”
Morris said Rockland is fortunate because there are examples of architectural trends dating to the 1700s. The city retains remnants of such broad periods of architecture because Rockland wasn’t always a prosperous place, Morris said.
“Rockland has this historic flavor that you can’t have in a community that has always been successful, because when a community is always successful, people are always upgrading their buildings and in many cases that means tearing them down,” Morris said.
In the 1970s, Morris said, the city faced a major historic loss when its former customs house and post office was torn down.
While a number of buildings within Rockland are on the National Register of Historic Places, that only provides protection at a federal level, Morris said, meaning without local preservation guidelines, property owners could do whatever they wish.
Current Rockland locations on the National Register of Historic Places include the Rockland Breakwater and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, the Rockland Main Street Business District and a residential historic district around Broadway.