NORTH ADAMS -- The city's General Governance Committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend the adoption of an ordinance that would delay demolition of historically significant buildings at tonight's City Council meeting.
The ordinance, entitled "The Preservation of Historically Significant Buildings," was passed to a second reading at the council's June 12 meeting. If approved, it would allow the city to delay demolition of any building deemed historically significant by the city's Historical Commission for up to 12 months.
"We're at a point in time when our landscape is at risk," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said, explaining the reasoning for the ordinance. "We're not talking about something like the entire south side of Main Street being taken down by Urban Renewal. We're talking about the individual plucking of buildings out of our landscape over time."
However, the decision to recommend the ordinance was not made lightly during the meeting, as Councilor Jennifer Breen, a committee member, questioned the motivation behind Mayor Richard J. Alcombright's request for its quick approval.
She asked the mayor if any proposal had come forward that would prompt the need to push forward the ordinance at this time, specifically asking about the St. Francis of Assisi Church complex on the corner of Eagle and Union streets.
"Everything is an issue," Alcombright said. "There are discussions happening around St. Francis,
Breen pushed further, saying she wanted to know if a deal was in the works. St. Francis was abandoned in favor of the former St. Anthony's Church by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield during its consolidation process in 2008 because of structural concerns surrounding its steeple and an adjacent wall. It is the city's oldest church.
"I don't want to vote on something with an agenda behind it," Breen said. "I support the ordinance and I support the preservation of historical buildings. What I don't support is government micro-managing what a private owner can do."
Alcombright said he knew discussions were taking place and the sale of St. Francis "was imminent."
"I know there are offers. I don't know the details or the specifics," he said.
Councilor Marie Harpin, a committee member, said she agreed with the mayor's saying the issue was greater than St. Francis.
"There's the Methodist Church and two funeral parlors for sale on the corner of East Main Street," she said. "It's the whole corridor that needs protection. There are many beautiful, historic homes that could be demolished."
City Solicitor John DeRosa clarified that the ordinance -- which is modeled after the state Historical Commission's ordinance that is used in a majority of towns and cities across the commonwealth -- could only delay the demolition of the building for up to 12 months, during which time the city could try to negotiate with the owner a better way to reuse and rehabilitate the structure.
"At the end of the 12 months, the demolition permit would go into effect," he said.
Breen said she also felt the ordinance did not provide the property owner with an appeals process.
"Under the mechanics of the ordinance, all of this has to be done in a public hearing," DeRosa said. "It doesn't interfere with the sale or the permitting process. It provides a forum for all of these issues to be addressed."
Historical Commission Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said the city would have been considering the ordinance at some point in the near future, as her commission had already been asked by the state Historical Commission to help move it forward.
"My big concern is what could happen with the Methodist Church and the surrounding Monument Square Historic District," she said.
The ordinance was approved for recommendation to the council with two amendments -- one changing the section it will fall under and the other changing all references of Building Commissioner to Building Inspector.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email email@example.com.