Officials consider razing freeze

MERRIMACK – Town officials are considering a measure designed to “hit the pause button” on razing historically significant buildings.

A proposed demolition ordinance, which would establish a review committee and encourage discussions about alternatives before action, will be open to a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 25.

The idea was first raised following the destruction in September 2007 of the former Madden’s Restaurant at 583 Daniel Webster Highway. The building was taken down after developers said it wouldn’t structurally or financially support a new project there.

Several weeks ago, community development director Walter Warren presented a draft ordinance to the town council. He emphasized then that it was a work in progress.

According to the latest version of the ordinance posted on the town Web site, officials would determine if a review must take place when the town’s planning department receives an application for a demolition permit. That hinges on whether a property is identified on the town’s historic properties map, first developed in 2002 and updated this month.

If so, the applicant would be notified by mail, and a review period not to exceed 49 days would begin.

Then, the demolition review committee – in this case, the town’s heritage commission – would call a hearing to allow public testimony regarding the demolition to be heard and invite the applicant to hear concerns and possible alternatives.

After that, the committee and applicant would meet to discuss potential options. If no alternatives are reached, the applicant would be free to proceed with demolition, although the heritage commission would ask to photograph the building first and salvage significant architectural features.

The idea, Warren has said, is to give the town a chance to evaluate the historic significance of properties and provide a “cooling off” period for the developer to perhaps come up with alternative to demolition.

“There’s no hammer attached to this ordinance,” Warren said last month. “Its principle purpose is to educate and raise awareness regarding historic and significant structures in town.”

The proposal in Merrimack mirrors one already in place in Concord and another being considered in Hollis.

More public discussion is expected even after the first hearing next week.