Historic preservation advocates are hopeful the passage of a new ordinance in Brunswick will be a step toward protecting historically significant buildings that are outside of designated historic districts from demolition.
The Brunswick City Commission on Wednesday passed the Historic Building Procedures Ordinance, which places new rules on the process of demolishing buildings that may be deemed historic. Passage of the ordinance follows demolition of the historic Dart house in April and the ensuing outcry from some area residents and historic preservation advocates.
Kate Sabbe, chairperson of the Brunswick Historic Preservation Board, feels the ordinance will be especially helpful for buildings slated for demolition that are not in the Old Town Historic District the preservation board oversees for the city.
She also hopes educating the public about the new rules will add another layer for protecting Brunswick’s historic properties.
“We were very happy to see it passed at (Wednesday’s) city commission meeting,” Sabbe said Thursday.
The process set forth in the ordinance calls for a 120-day review period to allow the city’s planning department and Historic Preservation Board time to explore demolition alternatives for historic structures, such as adaptive reuse projects, locating buyers or moving buildings to a new location
Historically significant buildings, according to information on the Historic Preservation Board’s website, are any structures listed on the National Register of Historical Places, listed on the current historic inventory of Brunswick, located within any national register or local historic district or that were constructed in whole or in part prior to 1940.
The Dart house held historical significance because it was built in the late 1870s by the family of Urbanus Dart, who is credited with founding Brunswick, but the house was at 4 Glynn Ave., not in the historic district.
The Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, which owns the property where the Dart house sat and formerly used it for its offices, demolished the house in April after allowing a local nonprofit four years to raise money to buy it. The nonprofit Historic Brunswick Foundation was unsuccessful in its effort.
The chamber said rehabbing the building was not financially feasible because of its condition and, “with heavy hearts,” had the building demolished.
The new ordinance requires the city’s planning department to send any demolition permit application for a historically significant building to the city’s preservation board. The board is then to hold a public hearing within 30 days of receiving the application.
The board will then decide based on a number of criteria in the ordinance whether the demolition would be detrimental to “the historical, cultural or architectural heritage or resources of the city.” If that is the conclusion, then the application will be on hold while other avenues are explored for the remainder of the 120-day review period that begins when the preservation board receives a completed application.
“We feel that education is the next step,” Sabbe said. “The Historic Preservation Board has been working hard on increasing our education and outreach efforts to property owners and the public about the importance of taking care of and preserving historic buildings.”
While some people may see owning a historic property as having too many strict rules and regulations, there are obvious benefits, she said.
“Ultimately, the responsibility is with the property owner to take care of their property and we are working on providing the tools and information for them to do so,” Sabbe said. “We have set up social media accounts where we share information about caring for and rehabbing historic properties. People can follow us on Facebook and Instagram at @PreserveBrunswick.”
Sabbe encourages anyone who has historic preservation questions and concerns to reach out to the board.
“We are also in the beginning stages of working on creating workshops for the community to empower property owners to care for these historic buildings responsibly,” Sabbe stated. “Working with the community is going to be the best way to protect and enhance local historical, cultural, and aesthetic attractions within the city of Brunswick.”