Cedar forbidden on historic home


November 09, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

All Tom Harman wanted to do was fix up his newly bought 80-year-old house in historic Ellicott City.

But the 29-year-old engineer has run into a few snags. He's gotten a nay vote from the Historic District Commission to change the type of siding for his house, and he's about $5,000 short of cash to comply with what it originally approved: German lap siding.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," he said. "It feels like I've hit a brick wall."

The commission -- seven county residents -- rejected his last-ditch effort to use cedar wood siding at a meeting last week, saying its earlier decision was final as a matter of policy and law.

The commission told Mr. Harman that his only recourse was to either file an appeal in Circuit Court -- which could take three years -- or wait another year to refile his application.

"I cannot reconsider it," Chairwoman Jean O. Hannon told him. "If you want to go to court, that is your recourse and your right."

Yet, not all members agreed. "You're going to lose a citizen from building a nice house in Ellicott City," said member Joseph Tieperman Jr.

Mr. Harman bought the house in the 3600 block of Sylvan Lane at an auction in March for $80,000.

He first approached the commission in July to ask for approval to renovate the house, a boarded-up, two-story frame duplex that had been the target of vandalism and arson.

The house needed major renovations, Mr. Harman said.

He asked the commission, which oversees exterior repairs in historic districts, to allow him to replace the windows, convert a summer kitchen into a garage and change the porches on the back of the house, among other repairs. He also asked for approval to install German lap siding, which already was on the house.

The commission approved his requests.

But as Mr. Harman started work on the house, he and his brother Jeff, a builder, found that the whole building had to be torn down. The wood was too rotted, fire-damaged and termite-infested to be salvaged, they said.

But they did this without informing the commission, raising the ire of the commission and its chairwoman, who reprimanded them for bypassing rules.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harman shelled out an additional $10,000 to tear down the house and raise it up again, depleting his cash surplus and money set aside to pay for $5,000 worth of German lap siding.

He found a similar siding made of cedar on sale at a lumber company. He bought it, gambling the commission would approve, because it allowed cedar substitution for other buildings in the historic district, Mr. Harman said.

The commission rejected his request 6 to 1, saying German lap siding was important to preserve the building's historic appearance and adding that Mr. Harman did not seek its approval before he bought the cedar siding. Ms. Hannon told him the commission could not allow him to provide a set of plans one week, then change them the next.

Mr. Harman says Ms. Hannon has a personal vendetta against him and his brother for not informing the commission of their plans to tear down the house.

Ms. Hannon denies the charge. "The entire commission voted on the matter," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harman has $1,000 worth of cedar siding that can't be used and a house that needs to be finished. He's not giving up.

"The family's going to pitch in," his brother said.

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