Balto. Co. hamlet fights designation as historic

April 16, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Franklinville is a flurry of activity these days as homeowners build garages and pave their driveways. But their efforts are more than spring cleaning.

Some of them are trying to beat a possible designation of their neighborhood as historic -- a distinction that would make it harder to change the looks of their homes.

"It's not that we're not advocates of history," said homeowner Pat Franz, who opposes historic status for the Baltimore County village near Kingsville. "We don't want a group we are responsible to."

The former cotton mill town, founded around 1828, recently was nominated as a local historic district by the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, an organization dedicated to land and building preservation. The Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission accepted the nomination.

Residents would have to approach the commission to receive approval for structural changes to homes. The county has five such historic areas: Lutherville, Glyndon, Sudbrook Park, Monkton and Corbett.

"The longevity [of Franklinville] needs to be maintained," said Judy Beard, who supports the historic designation and lives in the village's former town hall, general store and post office. "I'm surprised people don't find this an honor."

But Catherine Beverage, who has lived on Woodberry Place in Franklinville for 17 years, worries about government intervention. They're legislating my rights away," she said. "We've made out just fine without them."

She and her husband, Roy, renovated their once "unlivable, deplorable" home. "We put our whole lives into it," she said. "My biggest fear is having to ask permission. I'm furious I have to ask permission."

A public hearing is scheduled at the Baltimore County Council's meeting tomorrow to allow residents to express their views. After that, a bill could be introduced to the council.

Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat whose 5th District includes Franklinville, said Friday that he has not decided whether to sponsor legislation. "My initial feeling is we need to do more in Baltimore County to preserve history and tradition," he said. "But we need to do it sensitively."

John McGrain, executive director of the landmarks department, contends residents are worrying needlessly about the approval process. "It's the most user-friendly business in Baltimore County," he said.

"It's an assurance to keep the village the way it is," said Bill Colonna, an eight-year resident of Woodberry Place, a quaint, dead-end street with only eight houses. "I don't question that it is important to preserve the history. . . . Unfortunately, you have to take sides."

L And the proposed designation has divided the small conclave.

"I can't let those people take away my rights," said Mrs. Beverage, questioning the petition efforts of some of the proponents of the historic district. "They're brow-beating neighbors," she said.

"It's certainly not personal," Mr. Colonna said. "It's strictly for the area. If it does go, people aren't going to notice much of a difference."

To be considered for the historic designation, owners of 75 percent of the affected 17.3-acre area must agree to it. Approval is based on acreage, not the number of people who favor the designation.

About 84 percent of the property is committed to the project, Mr. McGrain said.

"It's not a democratic vote," said Mrs. Franz. "It should be based on titled ownership, not based on land. That's feudalism."

Also, the opponents wonder why the Belko Corp., a rubber plant that has been built around the original cotton mill, was eliminated from the proposed area.

"It was because Belko was against it," said Mrs. Beverage, explaining that if the property had been included the petitioners would not have achieved the needed 75 percent of the land.

"We didn't want them zoned out," Mrs. Beard said. "It is a business. It takes time to get a business in an historic district."

The tiny hamlet hugging the banks of Little Gunpowder Falls is not well known outside of the community near the Harford County border. Gunpowder State Park sits in its back yard, and one of Maryland's six covered bridges is a neighbor.

The town is one of Baltimore County's best-kept secrets, residents say.

Many of them live in the stone-and-frame restored homes once occupied by the cotton factory workers who populated the town for much of the 1800s.

"There's some kind of magic here," said Mrs. Beard, 48, who grew up in the area. "There's a cozy feeling when you come home."

Mrs. Franz and her husband, John, agree -- but they have reservations about the future.

"Before this, the community was wonderful," Mrs. Franz said. "It was the one place where there was no confrontation. . . . The neighborhood will never be quite as open and friendly as before."

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