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Lebanon council holds work session for city square

Jacob Smith • May 17, 2018 at 5:36 PM

The Lebanon City Council held a work session Wednesday night and gave a few residents a chance to speak on the Lebanon Historic Preservation Commission’s proposed historic overlay zone for the Lebanon square and a few surrounding properties.

Overlay districts are districts that provide an extra layer of regulation to meet specific needs and purposes. The general purpose is to provide extra protection beyond the base district zoning.

The Lebanon Planning Commission voted in March to send the district overlay zoning request to the council with a positive recommendation after much debate and a 5-2 vote.

“The reason for this meeting is, so being from New England, I know what true historic zoning is,” said City councilman Rob Cesternino. “This is not a true historic zoning, but it’s a change. As we’re going through this, I’ve always felt that ever since we started with the historic zoning that if there’s anyone that has concerns, we should always give them the opportunity to be in the same room and talk at the same time.”

Tracey Parks, chairman of the commission, came to the work session to speak on the benefits of the proposed zone overlay, while Mark Lee, an attorney whose office sits in the proposed zone, argued that the proposed area and guidelines weren’t good for some of the property owners.

Parks said the goal of the historic zoning overlay is to preserve the historic integrity of the area. The commission worked for many months to decide all facets of the overlay, which aims to keep the square historically accurate while letting builders use materials that maintain quality over time. The overlay only makes standards for the exterior look of the building, allowing business owners to have full reign over the interior design.

“As we stand here today, if someone decided to light a fire and take out a quadrant of the square, there is no existing protection for any of these buildings to require them to be built back in a fashion that would fit in with what would still be standing,” said Parks. “What the historic guidelines seek to do is preserve not only what we have now, but also to guide future restorations.”

Lee felt further guidelines would only go to hinder the property owners in what he called an “already-struggling” square.

“We can’t get businesses to develop the square as it is,” said Lee. “What we would have them do is take property that is already ridiculously situated, almost entirely, not just in a flood-zone, but in a flood-way.”

Lee expressed concern that the property value would go down with additional guidelines on all the buildings in the area. He proposed they change the zone to include the buildings that face North and South Cumberland Street and East and West Main Street, but excluding the properties just outside of the square.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash suggested another work session be scheduled to continue the discussion, which will be held May 31 at 6 p.m. at the Town Meeting Hall.

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