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Caught between two ages

Barbara Winther of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission stands in front of a historic house at 292 Ericksen Avenue slated for demolition. Winther says the century-old house is an important part of the neighborhood’s historic character. The owners plan to replace the building with a mixed-used development, though the lot is now for sale.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Barbara Winther of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission stands in front of a historic house at 292 Ericksen Avenue slated for demolition. Winther says the century-old house is an important part of the neighborhood’s historic character. The owners plan to replace the building with a mixed-used development, though the lot is now for sale.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

A historic home at 292 Ericksen faces demolition to make way for development.

Like its six elderly neighbors, the house at 292 Ericksen has history on its side.

It sits, proud an prim, atop a green patch of grass at the southern tip of the changing street, as it has since 1907, when it was built by a worker at the Hall Brothers shipyard.

Since then it has watched Winslow sprout up around it, and though it now houses commercial space instead of shipwrights, the structure has thus far eluded the bulldozer.

But as plans move forward for Peach Place, a new mixed-use development slated for the land on which it sits, the house at 292 Ericksen may soon be discarded like a peach pit.

“This is historic Winslow,” said Sarah Lee, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, lamenting the building’s potential demolition. “If we had a perfect world, we would be able to save every single historic property on the island.”

Absent perfection, the commission is asking for cooperation from the city and developers as they continue to look for ways to preserve the island’s historical structures.

Peach Place hasn’t yet broken ground. In fact, there isn’t even a known construction date, according to Brian Regan, who owns the property.

Still, plans for the project are set to go before the city’s Design Review Board for the second time on Monday and, though he acknowledged those who oppose the project, Regan said he still plans to tear down the house.

“I understand the emotional concern and the sentimental value of preserving an old structure like this,” he said. “But the fact is, legally, this is not a historic house. It’s not on any historic register. I happen to be a commercial developer and this is a commercially zoned property.”

The house – which along with six of the neighboring houses were the first contiguous row of houses in Winslow – is part of the Ericksen Overlay District, a zoning designation that allows for a “mix of residential and small-scale, nonresidential development,” but also aims to preserve the history of the neighborhood, according to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Though there are incentives for preservation, there are no requirements in the city code that prevent developers from demolishing old structures on Ericksen, most of which aren’t on a historic registry.

The ambiguity in the code is troubling to historic preservationists and developers alike, who would prefer an explicit set of rules for preservation.

“If the city wants to preserve houses like this I think it’s a fine idea,” said Regan, who is frustrated by continuing delays to his project. “Just say you can’t develop the land. That’s not what the city decided to do.”

Instead, Hudson said, the city created rules that allow the conversion of pre-1920s homes to nonresidential uses as long as additions are in the rear of the building and are compatible with the character of the structure.

The Historic Preservation Program, administered by the seven-member Historic Preservation Commission, offers tax incentives to property owners willing to preserve their historic buildings.

For the structures that won’t be spared, the commission works with developers to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

“I’m disappointed that the house has to go,” said Ronald Lacey, Peach Place architect and a member of the Design Review Board, of the house at 292. “But the developer wanted to maximize the use of the property and decided not to retain it.”

Peach Place would include 3,800 square feet of commercial space and four residential units on the east side of the street, abutting the ravine. Parking would be underground and the ‘craftsman style’ structure would be at least 15 feet off the street, as required by code, Lacey said.

Regan had hoped to break ground in January. Though the land is now for sale, he intends to move ahead as planned, he just doesn’t know when.

“If I could predict that I’d be playing the stock market instead of real estate,” he said.

Lee said she and other commissioners still would like to talk with Regan – and the owner of the house next door to 292, also slated for development – about saving the homes.

“It’s more about the carrot than the stick,” Lee said. “We know it’s not easy to build. It’s expensive and it takes forever. But we want to make preservation an easier option.”

The city will over the course of the next year review its development standards in the Ericksen District, and Hudson said historic preservation will be an important part of that discussion.

In the meantime, the preservation commission is leading property owners toward tax breaks and offering education – a growing library of materials detailing how to remodel a historic structure are available at the Historical Museum – to those who want to use them.

“We want people to say ‘maybe this building right here is worth preserving,” Lee said. “Most people want to do the right thing.”

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