UPDATED: Planning commissioner resigns over historic house demolition plan

ericksenhouse1 A longtime Bainbridge planning commissioner resigned in protest Thursday night after casting a dissenting vote against the demolition of a 107-year-old house set among a row of historic homes on Ericksen Avenue.

“These were the houses of workers in the shipyard that was the main industry on the island,” said Gary Pettersen, whose resignation caps over a decade on the commission. “We have to save our history because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

With the city Planning Commission’s three-to-two vote recommending the demolition’s approval, it is almost assured that the house at 216 Ericksen Ave. will be demolished to make way for new offices and townhouses. The redevelopment project will go forward despite opposition from neighbors, local historians, the state historical preservation department and some members of city Design Review Board.

Pettersen said the demolition violates the intent of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which calls for the preservation of Ericksen Avenue’s historic character.

“I resigned at the meeting last night because I thought the Comprehensive Plan was being ignored,” said Pettersen, who previously served 10 years on the commission before his latest nine-month stint.

While city code does not prohibit demolition, it does require all additions and remodels to fit the early 1900s character of the downtown Winslow street. Additions put also be located to the rear of existing historic buildings.

In approving the project, the commission is following the wording of zoning rules while opting not to consider the intent of the Comprehensive Plan, Pettersen said.

“The (plan) doesn’t mention demolition, but if it had to mention every single possibility, the document would be 10 feet tall,” he said.

Commissioner Martin Minkoff, who voted in favor of the plan, said city code has no provision mandating historic preservation.

“It’s a tough issue,” he said. “The (Comprehensive Plan) clearly states the intent is to preserve the historic structures. Yet, the ordinance behind it is voluntary in nature. It is not proscriptive- or prohibition-based.”

The house’s owner, Bruce Brunton, plans to remove the two-story wood structure, currently divided into rental offices, and replace it with a new 2,075-square-foot commercial building atop six underground parking spaces. Behind the house site, Brunton plans to build three townhouse units, a garage and a small apartment. The planned residential component on the quarter-acre parcel would total 4,510 square feet.

Pettersen said he favors the project’s design, but not if it means the removal of an irreplaceable structure.

“I actually like the new buildings, and I’d approve them anywhere else in Winslow,” he said.

Brunton said in a letter to the city that the aging house is too expensive to maintain.

“The maintenance costs and energy costs to service the building clearly show that it is at the end of its productive life,” he wrote.

The Design Review Board twice rejected Brunton’s proposal until he changed a few aesthetic details.

Historians rallied to save the house, asserting that its removal and replacement with a modern structure would significantly alter the street’s character.

The house sits among a line of six other homes built at the turn of the last century for the workers of Hall Brothers Shipyard, the Winslow-based builders of masted ships.

The project plan now goes back to the city Planning Department where final approval is expected early next month.

2 thoughts on “UPDATED: Planning commissioner resigns over historic house demolition plan

  1. Good. I’m glad he is gone. Just another do-gooder trying to tell people what they can do with their own property. It’s not 1902 any more. It’s 2009. Get over it. If someone wants to preserve old houses, let them BUY the houses and preserve them to their hearts content. Otherwise, butt out.

  2. Sounds like a win win situation.

    Mr. Peterson resigned so he doesn’t have to be on a commission where he disagrees with other members and the others don’t have to deal with a disagreeable person when following the rules they judge to be right.

    I agree with Marvin. People who want to save other’s possessions should be willing to buy them. Historic value is very subjective.

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