Westminster Historic District Plan Meets Little Resistance

Citizens Say They Like The Idea As Long As Restrictions Are Not Severe

November 17, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A proposal for a downtown historic district ordinance passed a hurdle Thursday evening when a public hearing on the measure produced scant opposition.

More than 40 people turned out at the firehouse on East Main Street for the city Planning and Zoning Commission hearing.

Of the dozen or so who spoke, most supported the plan enthusiastically, or approved of the concept but were pressing for details.

"While I'm for the concept, don't make it so difficult that we can't live with it," said Joseph H. Beaver, president of the Union National Bank on Main Street.

The ordinance would limit what building owners within the district could do to the exteriors of their structures.

A historic district would preserve the aesthetic and historical character of the area, stabilize property values and spur economic development, supporters say.

The proposal would do two things:

* First, the category of historic district would be added to the city's zoning law, which already includes such designations as residential, business and industrial.

* Second, the proposal would add to the city's zoning map the area targeted for the district.

A map presented Thursday depicted a roughly 20-by-6-block area centering on downtown Main Street.

As part of the measure, a board would be assembled and would review requests from property owners who want to alter the appearance of their buildings, such as by painting, adding on, remodeling.

If the board determined that the proposals were not in keeping with the character of the district, the requests would be denied.

Rarely do such ordinances come up for consideration without opposition from those who perceive them as yet more government control overprivate property. Thursday's hearing produced critics, but only three spoke in opposition.

Ray Ownings, who owns three Main Street properties, told the commission he is wary of more government strictures.

"I believe I have enough people telling me what I can do," he said.

Taneytown resident Robert Neal, another Main Street property owner, also voiced reservations.

Others liked the idea, but asked for details.

"Being against it would be like being against motherhood and apple pie," said Stephen P. Bourexis, whose law office is on Main Street.

Bourexis recalled getting his first hair cut at a MainStreet barbershop when he was 6 and called for the final ordinance to "give consideration to flexibility for the those things that are inplace already."

Business people expressed reservations about possible adverse economic effects such a measure could pose, especially for growing businesses:

* Would a building owner be barred from adding on?

* What are the ramifications for property taxes?

* If the board denied a request, how would appeals be made?

* How long would it take?

Many such questions have yet to be answered because the measure is in the formative stage.

Leaders of Ascension Churchexpressed concern about the church's future needs. The Rev. Ron Fisher said the congregation is rapidly outgrowing the historic church. Fisher said that a historic district might hamper future expansion plans.

The commission plans to have a draft ordinance ready to send to the City Council in early 1992.

The council must hold an additional public hearing on the measure before acting on it.

The commission will accept public comment on the proposal until Nov. 25, and will discuss the measure at its next monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12.

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