Window pains Historic panel decisions expose cracks in Uniontown preservation.

March 07, 1997

MAINTAINING THE historic integrity of a 19th-century treasure like Uniontown is not an easy task. The unincorporated Carroll County town has fought to retain its authenticity, while understanding that its residents live in the present, with modern needs and concerns. It's no museum or quaint tourist trap, even if visitors are often drawn to stroll its picturesque Main Street.

Over the years, the community's Historic Preservation Commission has struggled to balance practical considerations of homeowners with guidelines that dictate authentic appearances. Doors and porch lights and roofing are among the types of home improvements the volunteer commission typically reviews and approves at its monthly meetings.

But the controversy over replacement windows threatens to crack the credibility of the five-member panel, whose members are appointed by the Carroll County commissioners. Recent decisions have exposed apparent inconsistencies in applying historical guidelines that have provoked some resident discontent.

At issue is energy efficiency and money: vinyl replacement windows provide better insulation and protection, while costing one-third the steep price of a custom-made, wooden-framed window. They can even look the same from the street, although the wooden one is traditionally the only kind that passes muster.

One resident was sternly told to remove a vinyl replacement or face a stiff daily fine; others have been turned down in seeking to install the more efficient modern windows. But in January, the commission gave after-the-fact approval to 17 vinyl windows in a major home renovation project, uncomfortably explaining that it would be too costly to require their removal and replacement with wooden ones.

Commission members admit that they need more specific guidelines and greater consistency in decisions to reinforce objectives of the historic district, and to protect members from charges of favoritism. An open community discussion of the window replacement issue would also help.

People live in Uniontown because they cherish its historic charm and authenticity, sanctioned by the county zoning code. Keeping that community trust and purpose is one of the vital roles of the preservation commission.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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