Preservationists Seek Protection Of Landmark Areas

Westminster May Establish A Historic District

June 26, 1991|By Daniel P.Clemens Jr. | Daniel P.Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Before Monday, a report on whether the city should have a historic district was starting to become historical itself.

The Historic District Study Committee gathered in 1987 to determine whether the city would benefit from establishing a district in which historic structures and spaces would be protected from indiscriminate development.

The group completed the study in December 1989 and forwarded its report to city administrators a month later.

Since then, the report has been collecting dust.

"We really didn't receive any signs that it was moving anywhere," said Dean Camlin, a Westminster architectand member of the 14-member committee.

That changed Monday when the City Council formally received the report, which was turned over to its public improvements committee for study.

The committee, chaired by Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, will review the proposed ordinance and likely schedule a public hearing on the measure later this summer.

"If it contributes to the health and revitalization of downtown, I would be all for it," Orenstein said. "But we need to takea look at what it means for downtown."

No date for a hearing was set Monday, but the councilwoman plans to meet with committee membersJuly 11 at City Hall.

The recession was part of the reason the report sat at City Hall, said Camlin, president of Melvin A. Arbaugh Architect Inc. The downturn in building eased -- at least temporarily -- developmental pressures that typically threaten older buildings.

But mostly the document was a casualty of the soured working relationship between the previous council and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, who had called for the study. Now, with three new members on the council, the committee decided it was time to remind elected officials that the report existed, Camlin said.

The report includes information thecommittee gathered during consultations with other municipalities that have established historic districts.

In addition to providing protection for historic structures, historic districts tend to increase property values, the report said.

The proposed district corresponds roughly to the original boundaries of Westminster, said Camlin. The district is an elongated area centered on Main Street, from Washington Avenue to Western Maryland College, and Pennsylvania Avenue out to Sullivan Avenue. It is about 20 blocks long and varies in width from about two to six blocks.

The report recommends an ordinance establishing a panel to review plans for significant renovations to buildings in the district.

That's where the opinion on historic districts begins to vary. Some property owners worry about being limited inwhat they can do to their buildings, Camlin said.

The report describes an ordinance that is "less strict for small changes and less significant buildings and more intensive for important 'landmark' structures."

"We would rather see it as a resource, to find ways to preserve what they have," Camlin said.

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