2014-09-19 / Community

Committee aimed at preservation

By Jason Glynn
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland City Council is offering residents a way to impact their community and have a say about the things they care about. It recently established the Arts and Historic Preservation Committee and is searching for community members who are interested in protecting – and potentially bettering – some of the city’s most treasured artifacts and landmarks.

The committee is a continued implementation of the larger Comprehensive Plan that was passed in October 2012. The Comprehensive Plan’s purpose is to serve as a guide for the decisions the city must make about growth, development and redevelopment over the coming decade, said South Portland Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser.

Haeuser started on the city’s planning board just as the Casco Bay Bridge was opening; trying to mitigate the negative impact of reduced traffic to a rich, yet seemingly forgotten, part of South Portland: Knightville. The previous Million Dollar Bridge went down Ocean Avenue, right through Knightville, and carried thousands of vehicles daily.

The city is intently focused on preserving its historical landmarks, and the prevailing notion is that “arts and history just go together,” Haeuser said. So the two congruent fields were joined together in the project. In large part, it complements South Portland’s revitalization efforts, because “promoting arts, culture and history is an economic issue, and it creates an identity,” Haeuser added.

The Arts and Historic Preservation Committee will be filled with nine South Portland residents, whom ideally have a passion for preserving the heritage of the city. One slot is reserved for a representative from the South Portland Historical Society and another will be reserved for a representative from Greater Portland Landmarks. Committee members are encouraged to apply online or through the city clerk, and ultimately the city council will approve its members.

Committee members will serve three-year terms on a voluntary basis, and their duties will include: creating an inventory of South Portland’s historical and architectural landmarks; assessing their condition; recommending improvements; working with the community on the beautification of public areas; and promoting the educational, culture, and general welfare of the city. The committee will make recommendations to the city council and will be overseen by Mayor Gerard “Jerry” Jalbert.

According to South Portland Historical Society’s Executive Director, Kathy DiPhilippo, “The best way to achieve historic preservation is through education.” The hope is that the committee will be able to facilitate, or make recommendations about educating the greater community.

According to Haeuser, “The impetus (for the project) was that Greater Portland Landmarks included South Portland in ‘Places in Peril,’” – an annual report that looks at historical landmarks in the Greater Portland area. All of South Portland’s Historic Resources were included in its Landmarks Observer/ Winter 2013-2014 report.

Since being settled as part of Cape Elizabeth about 1630, South Portland has developed a rich history. Especially rich is the city’s maritime past, with memorials such as Bug Light’s Liberty Ship Memorial commemorating the shipyard that turned out 236 Liberty Ships for the allied effort in World War II. Three buildings – two of which are lighthouses – are included in the National Register of Historic Places, according to “Places in Peril.” According to the National Register of Historic Places’ database, there are five South Portland listings.

DiPhilippo already has an idea of a place she’d like to see preserved: the fishing shacks found at Fishermen’s Point in the Willard Beach area of South Portland.

“A lot of returning residents like to come back (to the city), go to Willard and see the shacks,” she said.

It is her hope that this new committee will make recommendations on safeguarding the local landmark.

A major problem Haeuser and the “Places in Peril” report noted is the destruction of historical sites and artifacts during redevelopment. This newly established committee, and the larger Comprehensive Plan, will seek to better address this issue by recommending regulations for new and redevelopment.

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