Board delays a decision on demolition

November 06, 1995|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Historic District Commission has postponed action on an Ellicott City church's request that it be allowed to demolish a fire-damaged apartment building owned by the church and constructed in the 1880s.

St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church on Main Street in the historic district owns the building directly behind it and wants to replace it with a parking lot, said the Rev. Thomas Donaghy, the parish priest.

"The structure is an impediment," Father Donaghy said during the commission's monthly meeting Thursday, adding that it also is a fire hazard.

The interior of the building, which was part of St. Peter's Episcopal Church from the 1880s until 1939, was gutted by a fire in the 1980s. The exterior suffered only a small amount of fire damage.

At issue during the meeting was whether the commission -- a seven-member board that governs development and architectural standards in historic districts in Ellicott City and Elkridge -- has the authority to approve or disapprove a demolition. Its authority hinges on whether a building is considered of unusual importance, according to the county code.

But two versions of the building's history were presented to the commission, one by Father Donaghy and one by the board's consultant, Lisa Jensen Wingate, who also is the executive director of the Maryland Association of Historic Districts.

According to the county's survey of historic sites, which was presented to the board by Mrs. Wingate, the building served as Ellicott City's social, religious and educational gathering place before it was converted into apartments. The survey in 1981 suggested that the building be considered for restoration, rehabilitation and reuse.

But according to the archives of St. Peter's church, the building the survey refers to no longer stands and is not the same structure the church wants to demolish, Father Donaghy said.

"Our plans are to demolish it," he said. "If we don't, it'll stand until it falls."

The board requested a thorough documentation of the building and voted to table the issue until its Dec. 7 meeting.

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