The Brunswick Downtown Association held an informational meeting on their efforts to include Brunswick’s downtown in the National Register of Historic Places.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Downtown Association (BDA) held a meeting on Feb. 7 to offer local businesses and property owners a chance to learn about their plans for naming part of Brunswick a historic district.
Currently, Brunswick already has three other historic districts, but nothing protecting the downtown area.
“I’m going to guess, when you think about Brunswick, you think about our downtown,” said Annie O’Rourke of the BDA.
O’Rourke gave a presentation on the reasoning behind the BDA’s efforts before offering the floor up to Christi Mitchell, the National Register Coordinator for Maine, who explained what the program was about and how it would benefit the community.
“This is not a new program, it’s tried and true,” said Mitchell.
The program itself consists of register, which is literally a large list, of historic places that constitute an area worth maintaining. This register came on the heels of massive redevelopment projects in decades past that destroyed historic structures and lost pieces of history forever. The register is a way for organizations to protect the structures and obtain help in maintaining them.
According to Mitchell, although past inductees to the register may have had a fairly easy time, the process is now fairly rigorous.
“No longer is a register just ‘Washington slept here.’ We look a little deeper,” said Mitchell.
In her presentation, Mitchell explained that the register can include a variety of structures and places, including statues, objects, parks, and other things that have been constructed. Districts are areas with a large percentage of historic interest, and can include a limited number of “non-contributing” structures that aren’t technically historic but happen to be inside the district. Of the buildings inside the proposed district, 33 of the 34 them are considered to be “of historic interest.”
Brunswick’s downtown in particular is of historical interest due to the blend of architectural elements which reflect the area’s continual development, its unusually wide streets, and the breadth of businesses that have come and gone.
According to Mitchell, property owners can gain tax breaks and can also obtain grants for any restoration work they do, as long as it is state and federally approved within a narrow set of restrictions. However, any owner can choose to fund their own restoration and do whatever they want to the building, as long as they don’t use any federal funds.
“Listing in the register does not mean you have to choose a paint color that is appropriate,” said Mitchell. Mostly, local ordinances and programs are what restrict construction.
Property owners will be sent a letter, which they have 30 days to respond to. If they object, they can send a notarized letter to the organization. If over half reject, they will not move forward. The BDA and Mitchell are both optimistic that most property owners will welcome the chance to become a historic district.
“It’s important to remember what we were like,’ said O’Rourke.