Howard executive aims to preserve historic landmarks

January 06, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Expressing concern over the loss of local landmarks, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said Friday that his administration would prepare legislation aimed at preserving historic sites.

Mr. Ecker has asked Alice Ann Wetzel, the county's historic preservation planner, to draft legislative proposals, which will be reviewed by various community groups before they are ready for introduction in midyear.

The executive is picking up an initiative undertaken two years ago by his predecessor, Elizabeth Bobo. She later dropped the idea because her administration wanted to concentrate on passing a controversial land-use and environmental package.

"I am concerned that historic buildings are being plowed under which should not be," said Mr. Ecker, who has an interest in antiques and called the preservation of historic buildings "a concern I have had for years."

Mr. Ecker said that in developing a bill, his administration would be "concerned about individual property rights. We will not have the government come in and say, 'Do this,' unless there is a way to do it financially."

The county has listed about 600 historic sites in an inventory compiled by the Department of Planning and Zoning. Ms. Wetzel estimates there are probably 300 more buildings that should be included in the historic category.

She estimates that the county has lost to demolition 20 historically significant structures, including several farmhouses and outbuildings, during the two years she has been the county's historic preservation planner.

The legislation probably will include "criteria that must be met before a structure can be razed," said Ms. Wetzel.

"The property owner likely would have to show that the building or structure is architecturally insignificant or that it would not be economically feasible to rehabilitate it," she said.

One of the major issues to be considered is whether the proposed legislation will require property owners to maintain historic properties.

"If these buildings are not maintained, it results in demolition by neglect," Ms. Wetzel said.

Except for rental properties, the county currently does not require a property owner to keep up his or her dwelling.

To help finance the rehabilitation of historic structures, Ms. Wetzel said, her draft proposal might include a provision for a revolving fund that would enable property owners to receive low-cost loans for the improvements.

She said the legislation also might have guidelines for maintaining properties, such as prohibiting the sandblasting of brick buildings and banning aluminum or vinyl siding on historic structures.

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