WISCASSET — Wiscasset’s regular town select board meeting at 6 p.m. tonight will feature the first public hearing considering the repeal of the town’s relatively new Historic Preservation Ordinance.

The ordinance, created in 2015, established historic protection standards and a Historic Preservation Commission. Since its creation, a number of controversies have arisen, with accusations that residents have been mistreated.

The repeal was initiated by the select board itself, who started the process following complaints by resident Celeste Edwards at an April 18 select board meeting.

Edwards was involved in a conflict with the Historic Preservation Commission after she tore down a historic fence on her property without permission and replaced it with a fence the commission said did not fit the building.

The home, built in 1807, is a contributing structure to the town’s National Register Historic District and required permissions before both the demolition and the construction of a new fence.
The commission requested meetings with Edwards as early as the fall of 2016, and could have ruled on her property without her presence but held off to hear her arguments. It also stated that the rejection of Edwards’ proposal and the destruction of the previous historic fence were both clearly in violation of the ordinance.

Commission member James Kochan was clear that her application didn’t meet standards. “Per the ordinance, if somebody demolishes or tears down a structure within the historic district, without obtaining a permit first, they’re in violation of the ordinance and are supposed to be cited,” he said. “What she was judged on was what she presented to us, and what information that we knew about the property.”

Edwards said she felt harassed by commission members after it didn’t make concessions for her disability. She built the new fence because she is legally blind and it allowed her to use her property in the evening.

On April 18, Edwards said she had heard from others that commission members “bad-mouthed” her at meetings she couldn’t attend. Minutes from a Feb. 16 Historic Preservation Commission meeting indicate that one resident, Steve Christiansen, addressed comments the commission made in Edwards’ absence. He found statements about Edwards’ being seen “out and about in the evenings” at times she claimed to be unable to attend the commission’s meetings “troubling and uncalled for.”

The first public hearing to disband the Historic Preservation Ordinance is tonight. There will be a second public hearing at the select board’s regular Oct. 17 meeting, if necessary.