Razing questions Owings House demolition: Credibility of developer, Baltimore County officials left in dust.

March 06, 1996

DEMOLITION OF the Samuel Owings House last week destroyed one of Baltimore County's oldest buildings. It also damaged the credibility of the historic home's owner -- and of elected officials who have taken campaign money from him.

The two-story, 18th-century Georgian brick home on Painters Mill Road is but a pile of rubble after the developer sent in the bulldozers just hours before a court hearing on a last-ditch try by preservationists to stay the demolition. It appears doubtful that the structure will be faithfully reconstructed elsewhere, even if some salvaged bricks may be used.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire and County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger had insisted to "doing it right" in removing and reconstructing the home of the Revolutionary patriot for whom Owings Mills was named. That was how the two officials explained their active endorsement of the removal plan, to make way for construction of a $20 million office tower.

Mr. Brown has been a contributor to campaigns of both men, and was selling $500 tickets to a Ruppersberger fund-raiser this month.

The three met recently to seal the deal, even as preservationists were pressing to keep the building on its original site. The question is whether that handshake session was to guarantee careful removal of Owings House or to tacitly support its quick demolition.

Mr. McIntire, who represents the district, declared that Mr. Brown broke his word by the "barbaric" assault on the historic structure. "We're not experts on construction," was the feeble disclaimer of the county executive.

Last year, Mr. Ruppersberger refused to submit Owings House to the County Council for historic preservation, despite a unanimous vote of the county landmarks commission. He insisted that the economic development benefits were more important to the county.

Mr. Brown had the proper zoning and owned the land for a quarter-century. He was legally entitled (in the absence of a historic listing) to level the building. But the involvement of officials in openly sanctioning the plan, and then failing to bind the owner to accepted methods of relocating historic structures, means that a measure of public trust has been buried in the debris that was the Owings House.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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