The battle of Lawyers Hill Development, preservation interests clash in 19th century Elkridge.

January 30, 1996

MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT the significance of Howard County's historic district designation are at issue in the Battle of Lawyers Hill being waged in Elkridge. The would-be developers and the residents of that 19th century summer retreat of the forensic class appear to be at odds over the county's 1994 protections for the historic community.

The designation doesn't mean that no new buildings can be erected in the residential district. But neither does it allow common zoning subdivision codes to override the historic preservation considerations. We believe there should be sufficient room for compromise and goodwill to blend the new homes into the yesteryear milieu of the district.

The proposal to build eight new homes on five acres around the 140-year-old Hursley Manor apparently meets county subdivision codes. But the construction will still have to pass muster with the county Historic District Commission to assure that it is compatible with existing structures.

The facts of this particular case argue for accommodation. The developers, who live in Hursley Manor, bought the land to build housing there shortly before Lawyers Hill achieved historic district status and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The well-known effort to get the historic imprimatur had been prompted by a series of highway and subdivision developments that were disrupting the character of the area of stately homes with long driveways.

Some 40 old homes of differing architecture remain in the hilly woodlands overlooking the Patapsco River. Lawyers and judges from Baltimore first built their summer homes in the area a century and a half ago, followed by other members of the gentry with similar aims.

If the proposed subdivision is made to conform to the quaint historic character of the community, current residents' concerns may be assuaged. But this should not be seen as a foot in the door for further subdivision and highway evisceration of Lawyers Hill. Otherwise, the historic district designation could mean little more than a weathered plaque and a legal battle over approved paint colors. That is not in anyone's interest, except perhaps for the namesakes of the hill.

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