Wiscasset Planning Board

Planning panel opposes preservation ordinance’s repeal

Posted:  Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 9:45am

The Wiscasset Planning Board on Monday night came out against repealing the 2015 historic preservation ordinance. The panel voted after hearing support for the ordinance from residents, business owners, the Ordinance Review Committee and the Historic Preservation Commission the ordinance created.

The select board has been moving toward a possible repeal vote at the polls in November. No selectmen were at Monday’s meeting. Attempts to reach the board’s leadership for comment on the planning board’s statement were not immediately successful.

Speakers Monday night maintained the historic buildings drive Wiscasset’s economy and need protecting. Without a preservation commission, changes can be made that degrade buildings’ historic value, argued Gordon Kontrath, who serves on the ORC and the commission. He read aloud nonprofit Maine Preservation’s recent comments opposing repeal.

Resident Bill Sutter argued the ordinance should only cover the 278 acres he said are in the historic district. The focus should be on fixing the ordinance, “not on getting rid of it,” he told the board. The ordinance helps preserves property values, he added.

Wiscasset Bay Gallery co-owner Cordelia Ohmig of Brunswick said repeal would be a tragedy. Wiscasset’s charm and history draw people to it, she said. “Every day, I drive into town and I think, ‘This is a really neat, wonderful place.’”

ORC Chairman Karl Olson and Commission Chairman John Reinhardt presented panel reports arguing against repeal and against holding the vote in November. The reports stated the only time a change to the ordinance should go to voters is June, because, the panels argued, the June vote is the annual town meeting.

Former commission member James Kochan also questioned a November vote, saying a Maine Municipal Association opinion the town got did not involve the ordinance issue, and the Bernstein Shur law firm provided a timeline, not a legal opinion.

Les Fossel of Alna said Wiscasset’s historic buildings have helped keep him in the restoration business for many years. He and other speakers urged Wiscasset to consider the money historic preservation generates in taxes and investment into the buildings.

No one spoke in favor of repeal.

Also Monday, the board approved Norm’s Used Cars owner Norman Sherman’s request to use a leased building at 731 Bath Rd. for buffing and waxing used cars. The panel waived a site walk.