There's no question Henry Boyer understands the importance of historic preservation: He transformed his own Southampton home, which datesto the 1770s, into a historic showpiece and has restored other old houses.
So why is he willing to allow the land and office building he owns at the corner of Route 22 and Route 543 in Churchville -- thesite of the county's World War II-era maternity hospital -- to be bulldozed to make way for a gas station?
"The building is of no historical significance," said Boyer. "It's just that there's a lot of sentimental value because 1,400 people were born there, including some of Harford's most prominent citizens."
The building has been used as an office building for many years; it was zoned for commercial use in 1957, when the county first adopted a zoning code. The front four rooms date to the 1880s, while the rest of the building is turn-of-the-century, Boyer said.
Boyer's wife, Patricia, said her husband purchased the building 16 years ago as a retirement investment. The property has a current assessed value of$84,700, county tax records show.
But Boyer's plans, and applications for a demolition permit, have upset county planners, County Council members and local historic preservationists.
Boyer plans to lease his property to the Mobil Oil Corp., which wants to bulldoze the office building, gazebo, trees that include a prominent old ash and level the hill on which the house sits to make way for a gas station.
Mark Cohen, a spokesman for Mobil Oil Corp., said in a telephone interview from his Scarsdale, Pa., office Thursday that the company has been "discussing the problem of the house with County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann."
"We're leasing the property. If the county feels this house really is of significant importance, we'll permit them to move it. We'll give them the house," said Cohen. "As for the tree, we're trying to work out a way to save the tree and build around it."
But the county's director of planning and zoning said it's the site as well as the building and tree that make the property valuable.
"My feeling is that the building and trees and whole site condition is important to Harford County," said William G. Carroll, director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.
"It's a nice example of a certain kind of architectural style, and it's certainly of local significance," said Carroll. "I look at an application like that, and I'm incredulous. It's unbelievable that somebody who lives in the county would want to tear down the building and the trees and level the site. It'll be a great loss."
Carroll said he has set up a meeting tomorrow with Boyer and representatives of Mobil to discuss alternative plans for the site.
Wilfred B. Hathaway, a Churchville resident who is chairman of the Route 22 Corridor Steering Committee and a member of the county Historic Preservation Commission, also opposes Boyer's plan.
"The building is listed among the county inventory of historic places. It was used as a maternity hospital from 1942to 1950," said Hathaway, who, as president of the Maryland State Forestry Boards, also objects to the destruction of the old trees on thesite. "I've also pointed out that you have a very congested intersection, and any further interference with the traffic pattern could be a disaster."
Hathaway described the building as "not pretentious, and essentially as it originally was designed on the inside."
Christopher Weeks, a county preservation planner, said the house was purchased about the time of World War II by a physician, Dr. Willard Hudson, who turned the building into a maternity hospital. Weeks said he has no records to show why the building ceased to be a hospital in 1950.
However, he said the building also is important because of evidence that older parts were once a store and blacksmith's shop.
"One could safely call it the heart of Fountain Green," Weeks said. "But there's nothing in the code as it's now written to stop the demolition of important old buildings."
Boyer has said that if someone isinterested in moving the house to a new site, he would be willing tolisten. But he said about the only parts of the building of any historical and architectural value are the chestnut staircase and a slatemantle piece -- "and we plan to save those."
Sallie van Rensselaer, chairman of the Maryland Historical Trust Committee and a Bel Air resident who grew up with Boyer said, "That's where we disagree.
"But Henry's a good man, and he's done his share over the years. It's just a shame if that building has to go. Years ago it might never have been zoned commercial. I don't know if there's anything more we cando now."