CAMDEN, Maine ― Despite its reputation for being a historic coastal destination where “the mountains meet the sea,” this town has no ordinances to preserve its historic structures.
But Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved one aimed at slowing down the demolition of properties within the town’s three historic districts. The vote was 1,801 to 270.
“There has been a perception in the community that there is some sort of ordinance in place that protects historic structures from demolition and that really isn’t the case,” Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said. “The idea was that this isn’t a full-on historic preservation ordinance, but it was a step in that direction.”
The new ordinance creates a review period after an owner of a historic building submits a demolition permit to the town’s code enforcement office. During that time, the town’s Historic Resources Committee will have the opportunity to address alternative options with the property owner, including how they can access available tax credits to possibly restore their property.
“The hope is that by being able to work collaboratively with property owners there is an opportunity to educate them about their building and opportunities for renovating it, rather than demolishing it,” Caler-Bell said.
The ordinance would apply to any building within the town’s three historic districts, which include parts of Camden’s downtown and waterfront. One of the districts, located along High Street, includes several historic inns, the Camden Public Library and Amphitheater, as well as a waterfront park designed by the Olmsted brothers.
The ordinance also would apply to buildings outside those districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
“I think everyone involved in [creating this ordinance] recognized that history is a major aspect of what makes Camden unique and special,” Caler-Bell said.
Rockland took a similar step toward preserving its historic structures in 2018, when city officials created a historic preservation commission. The group is tasked with making recommendations on how owners of buildings in certain districts can renovate them without diminishing their historic character.
As in Rockland, Camden residents have seen the demolition of historic buildings with significance. In recent years, Caler-Bell recalls an old Sears craftsman-style home in a neighborhood made up of similar homes being torn down, leaving neighbors feeling dismayed.
It’s a motivating factor to pass these historic preservation ordinances, Caler-Bell said.
“Rockland is going through a lot of change, Camden not to the same extent,” Caler-Bell said. “But I do think both these communities recognize that the historic character of them is one of the things that is appealing about them and gives them a sense of place.”