Historic zone fee surprises council CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

October 14, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Westminster residents who want to join the city's new historic district will have to pay a $1,250 fee for the privilege -- a charge at least half the City Council members didn't know about when they created the district.

The council voted Monday night to create historic district zoning as a category, but left it to interested property owners to ask for the designation for their houses or commercial buildings.

Council members rejected a map that would have created a downtown historic zone.

The $1,250 charge is the city's fee for a zoning map amendment, City Clerk John D. Dudderar said yesterday. He said applications for the historic district zoning will go to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a recommendation, then to the council for public hearing.

Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan, who favored voluntary historic designations over a council-imposed district, said adopting a fee that would discourage historic district applications was not part of the intent.

"I would be surprised if anyone who voted last night was aware of the fee," Mr. Yowan said yesterday.

He said he did not learn of the $1,250 fee until yesterday.

Mr. Yowan said he had "every confidence" that the council can eliminate the fee for historic district petitioners or "reduce it down to something very reasonable, like $25."

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, the most staunch supporter of historic district zoning, said she also was unaware of the fee.

"It's an unintended consequence," she said. "This is for the betterment of the town, and it shouldn't be a hindrance [to obtain the historic designation.]"

Ms. Orenstein said a $5 to $10 fee would be the maximum she could accept for historic zoning applicants.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. said he knew at the time of the vote that a charge existed, but didn't know the exact amount. The finance committee he heads will be reviewing city zoning fees at the mayor's request, he said.

Councilman Edward S. Calwell could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The map that the council rejected would have designated a half-square-mile area of downtown Westminster as a historic district.

Property owners within historic districts are barred from demolishing historic structures or making exterior alterations that change the building's appearance unless they win approval from an historic district commission.

Michael Day, the Maryland Historic Trust's chief of planning and educational outreach, said yesterday that he knows of no precedent in the state for a fee like Westminster's.

"There would be no real incentive for doing this if they have to pay that kind of fee," he said.

Bel Air, which has had historic district zoning since 1985, charges no fee and offers property tax credits for exterior rehabilitation or compatible new construction, reported Elizabeth Carven, a community development administrator.

Calvert County charges no fee to historic district applicants, but those who want county property tax credits for restoring historic properties must pay a $35 processing fee, said Sally McGrath, a rural planner and staff liaison to the county historic district commission.

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