Preservation vs. practicality in Sykesville Town's business owners, history purists involved in historic conflict

September 08, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville is involved in a battle between practicality and history.

Its Historic District Commission insists any renovations to local buildings must adhere to federal Department of the Interior standards that encourage repair or replacement with like materials.

Business owners in the town of 3,500 are calling the standards "guidelines" and asking for flexibility, often mentioning "vinyl," amaterial that's anathema to preservation purists.

"The operative word is guidelines," said Bruce Greenberg, owner of several Main Street properties. "The local government has the option of how and where to apply those guidelines."

Greenberg agrees preserving design and style is important, but "we have to look at the costs of painting every two years compared to the costs of vinyl siding and windows.

"Most people can't tell the difference from five feet away," Greenberg said.

Mark Rychwalski, president of the historic district commission, said he is asking residents to look at the big picture. The seven-member panel is always willing to work with business owners and residents and to compromise whenever possible, he said.

Maintenance concerns

"Obviously, there are concerns about maintenance in the historic district," Rychwalski said. "We are asking owners to reshift their focus, to fix and maintain instead of covering with vinyl siding."

To offset costs, owners can apply for federal and state tax credits for historic renovations, Rychwalski said.

Those credits involve "elaborate forms and regulations that are costly of my time and emotional energy," Greenberg said.

The commission should recommend, not dictate, Greenberg said. Its inflexibility is causing "passive resistance" among property owners, particularly those on Main Street.

When the commission turned down three applications to replace deteriorating wood with vinyl siding, the owners did nothing. The buildings remain Main Street eyesores, threatening a planned revitalization project.

"The town has offered to employ students to paint those buildings," said Rychwalski. "This issue goes beyond the historic commission. It is anti-town."

The commission reviews about 50 applications a year and approves about 90 percent of them, he said.

Greenberg has circulated a petition that asks the town to allow vinyl siding and windows "designed to match existing wood." About 50 people have signed.

Council meeting tonight

The two factions will square off before the Town Council tonight, but no one expects an immediate decision.

"We need to solve this dispute now so we can work together," Greenberg said. "The needs of the business community should be important to town leadership.

"How a community looks and feels about itself depends on its business district."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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