Harford's planning director says he is bound by law to grant a demolition permit to the owner of a building that earned distinction as a maternity hospital for county residents in the 1940s.
The permit probably will be issued in the next few weeks, said William G. Carroll, the county's planning director. He said his efforts to convince theproperty owner to preserve the building have failed.
The building's owner, Henry Boyer, of Churchville wants to bulldoze the building and build a gas station on the site, located at the corner of Route 543 and Route 22. He intends to lease the site to the Mobil Oil Corp.
Boyer's wife, Patricia, said, "We've had a lot of comment about it, both negative and positive. In fact, we've had a lot of positive reaction from people saying 'This is America and you can do what you want to with your land.' We're sentimental, too, that'swhy we waited so long and put so much money into the building."
Carroll said he met with engineers and representatives from Mobil to express planners' concerns that a site of historical significance to the county would be lost. Carroll said he has communicated with Boyer by letter and through Boyer's lawyer.
"The people from Mobil basically indicated they are resolved to do it this way. They did say theywould be willing to allow the house to be moved, but we're not interested in that -- what's important is the site as a whole. I have no recourse but to grant the permit. It'll be a great loss."
Boyer, a former president of the county's Historic Preservation Commission wholives in a home near Bel Air that dates to the 1770s, has said the old hospital building is "of no historical significance."
The building has been used as an office building for many years, and is included in the county's inventory of historic sites.
Dr. Willard Hudsonfounded the hospital in 1942 for maternity patients and closed it in 1950 after Harford Memorial Hospital opened its own maternity ward,said Adrienne Kenyon, Hudson's granddaughter.
The building was zoned for commercial use in 1957 when the county first adopted a zoningcode. The front four rooms of the building date to the 1880s.
County tax records show the property has a current assessed value of $84,700.
The lease price for the property has not been disclosed.
"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," Boyer said.
The flap over the fate of the hospital has spurred the county's Historic Preservation Commission to consider revampingthe county's laws regarding historic preservation, said Christopher Weeks, the county's preservation planner.
"Even if the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the owner, withoutusing federal funds, could do anything he wants," said Weeks. "The only protection measures are locally voted."
Weeks said the problemof preserving the hospital presents a different situation than the one the town of Bel Air faced in trying to preserve the Van Bibber House, the county's oldest historic structure. The Van Bibber House was eventually saved and converted into a retail shopping complex.
Weeks said the town statute allows its historic district commission to declare buildings landmarks with or without the owners' consent. County law requires the owner's consent before the historic designation isgiven, he said.
"But preserving a building almost always comes down to m-o-n-e-y. For better or worse, economics simply takes precedence over sentiment," said Weeks.
"Under the law there could be no other outcome. If the Historic Preservation Commission decides to change the law, there are a lot of issues to be considered, too."
The news that nothing could be done to save the old hospital has distressed Kenyon, granddaughter of the hospital's founder.
"It's like preserving Michael Jackson's house and letting Jonas Salk's house fall apart," she said.
"Mr. Boyer has acknowledged the historical significance of the house; there's a plaque in the house saying the hospital was founded by my grandfather. If he was putting something there that would benefit the community, it would be one thing. But it's so sickening to see it go to a gas station."