SYKESVILLE — The sign on Interstate 70 says "Maryland History, Historic Sykesville Exit 80."
But while part of the downtown area has been designated a Historic Area by the Maryland Historic Trust, the town's HistoricPreservation Commission has had no power in recent years to enforce the ordinance that spells out its functions.
"We've never been a fully functioning historic district," said Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr., who plans to reactivate the town's 7-year-old commission.
"We're going to have a proper historic district, with a map designating where the district is," he said. "What you have to do is map the area where regulations would apply so people won't change the front of the building without permission."
The previous Town Council argued against the commission, saying it didn't want the panel telling people what to do with their property. About two years ago, the council even tried to repeal the 1984 Historic Preservation District ordinance, said Commission Chairman Becky Herman.
Helt, whosees the historic downtown area as the town's future, said the commission is needed and he wants the council and commission to work together to get the district set up.
As created by the 1984 ordinance, the commission has seven members and is a subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.
The ordinance spells out the criteria for historic designation of a building. When a building is proposed for historic designation, the owner must be notified and a public hearing conducted.
Once a building is designated historic, the commission's only
concern is the front of the property, which can be seen from the street.
"All we're interested in is that the facade isn't changed," said Commission Vice Chairman Thelma Wimmer. "We can only make a decision on the facade of the building that faces the street -- not the interior or back that can't be seen from the street."
She said the town has state and federal guidelines that the commission must goby in allowing or disapproving facade changes.
Owners of historicbuildings would then have to get a permit from the town for any facade changes, which would be reviewed by the commission.
"If they'reremoving something, putting something on or changing anything, the plans have to be reviewed to make sure it's not wildly out of character," Herman said.
The main function of the historic district is to maintain a consistent style throughout the area, she said. Herman said it is to an owner's advantage to have a building designated as historic.
"If you're in the district you can qualify for loans, grantsand tax credits for renovation," Herman said.
She attempted to dispel one myth about being in a historic district.
"There's the misconception that you have to do things," she said. "We're not obligating anybody to do something or spend money. We just want to steer themin the right direction if they were going to do the work anyway."
Town officials said that the historic designation would be a benefitto the town in several ways. Not only would such a district increaseproperty values, it would be a drawing card for tourists.
"Sure, it's going to be extra work," said Councilman Wiley Purkey, liaison to the commission. "But anyone who says it's wrong should go to Frederick or Uniontown and see that it does work."