WESTMINSTER -- Letter writers to City Hall showed more division over the proposal to establish a historic district in downtown Westminster than did the speakers who overwhelmingly endorsed the idea at an Aug. 10 public hearing.
The city government received 32 written comments before closing the record for public comment Monday, 16 favoring the district and 11 opposed. Other letters included requests for waivers from such a district and neutral remarks on historic districts.
At the public hearing, 13 of 18 speakers favored the district.
One opponent, Willis Street resident and County Attorney Charles W. Thompson, argued successfully for a chance to speak against the historic district at the Monday night council meeting despite the record having been closed hours earlier. City Attorney John B. Walsh advised the council to hear Mr. Thompson.
Written comments included one unsigned letter from the "Concerned Watching Citizens Cluster," who accused an unidentified proponent of the historic district of replacing a tin roof with more modern shingles.
City Council President William F. Haifley, an East Main Street resident, wrote a letter of opposition. The letter, signed also by his wife, referred to the stone building on Liberty Street adjacent to a city parking lot as "rapidly deteriorating and becoming an eyesore because the owners have been legislated what they can and can't do with their own property."
The council president votes only to break ties, but participates in council discussions.
The council has not scheduled a vote on the historic district proposal. Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein said yesterday that she will request a discussion session before the formal vote.
A historic district is recommended by a study commission formed by the mayor and council. The proposal calls for designating one-half a square mile of the downtown district. Adoption of the district would bar property owners from making exterior changes without the approval of a historic district commission, although minor changes such as painting would be permitted.
A letter from Thomas K. Ferguson, president of Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. on West Main Street, noted that proponents have cited demolition of buildings for construction of the bank as an argument for a historic district.
The bank pays about $32,000 a year in property taxes and generates customer traffic downtown that provides opportunities for other businesses, he said.
"None of this would be occurring if not for having the flexibility accorded us in the past," Mr. Ferguson wrote.
Other opponents objected to the authority the commission would wield.
The existing program that allows owners of historic buildings to place their properties on a national register and receive tax credits for restoration is better, they argued.
"As a young man, my grandfather herded livestock through downtown Westminster in the early 1900s. However, I do not believe this would be a desirable practice today, nor do I wish to be forced to live in the manner of my ancestors without benefit of modern improvements," wrote Lee A. Arbaugh, a West Main Street certified public accountant.