Council asks voters to rule on creation of historic district Members counseled not to discuss issue

September 16, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

A deadlocked City Council plans to let Westminster's 5,781 registered voters decide next May whether to create a downtown historic district.

But the voters will have to speak through the ballot box rather than to individual council members.

The council has been advised not to discuss the issue by City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr., who repeated his earlier warning at Monday night's council meeting. If council members discuss the issue with city residents or answer questions about it from the news media, they could face a lawsuit after the decision is final, Mr. Walsh cautioned.

Council members debated the historic district proposal for an hour Monday night without coming any closer to resolving a 2-2 split than they were after a 1 1/2 -hour discussion session a week earlier.

The council voted 3-1 to have Mr. Walsh write an ordinance that would establish a historic district if a majority of voters approves it in the May 1993 municipal election.

Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan opposed the referendum proposal, arguing for a non-binding advisory vote from citizens.

Council members Rebecca A. Orenstein and Edward S. Calwell favored adoption of the historic district, which was proposed by a study commission that worked on the plan for five years.

Mr. Yowan objected to mandatory preservation, as did Councilman Stephen R. Chapin, who cited "more rules and regulations," property rights and his fear that historic district zoning would lead to higher taxes.

Ms. Orenstein did not introduce the compromise resolution she had said she planned to offer the council. Her resolution would have declared the council in favor of historic preservation, but would not have barred property owners from altering exteriors or demolishing historic buildings.

Ms. Orenstein said after the meeting that she would not explain why she didn't offer the resolution, "because I'm following my legal advice."

Mr. Chapin publicly chastised his colleagues for speaking to the media after the Sept. 8 discussion session, saying he did not like reading post-discussion comments in an article "over the weekend."

An article describing Ms. Orenstein's planned compromise appeared in Sunday's edition of The Carroll County Sun.

Mr. Chapin is commercial sales manager for Centaur Press, which is owned by Landmark of Maryland, publisher of The Carroll County Times. Asked if he saw a conflict in criticizing his colleagues for commenting in a rival newspaper, he said his comment referred to articles and editorials published "over the weekend, from Wednesday through Sunday" in the media.

The city attorney told council members that his advice not to discuss the historic district individually was based on zoning law. The historic district is a form of zoning, and zoning decisions must be based on the record from the public hearing and comment period, he said.

The decision to seek a referendum drew criticism from Council President William F. Haifley, who urged the council to act Monday night. He noted that businesses and downtown property owners who live outside the city would not have a vote in the referendum.

The non-binding vote idea, Mr. Haifley said, "sounds like a last-ditch delaying tactic to me."

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