Historic buildings workshop planned Renovation experts will be available with free advice

January 19, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Prospects may be dim for an official historic zone in Westminster, but the city's Historic District Commission hopes to highlight its goals with a free renovators' workshop next month.

Experts from around the state will be available to talk about hands-on work on such artifacts as stained glass, brick walls, slate roofs, paint and chimneys, as well as design, landscaping, planning additions and tax incentives.

The workshop, a first for the commission, will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Westminster fire hall, 66 E. Main St. The snow date is March 5.

"I certainly hope we get a lot of people," said Carol Wiske-an, a member of Westminster Historic District Commission, who volunteered to head the project. "Anybody who has an older home or business who's interested in doing work on it can come and talk to these 12 crafts people."

People can come for the full two hours or for 20 minutes, said assistant town planner Tracey L. Smith, who is handling the event for the city. The experts will have stations set up around the room. They have been asked to prepare 10-minute presentations.

Smith said that, with free use of the hall and the experts participating for free, the only expense will be cookies and punch.

That's why the commission is asking -- though not requiring -- preregistration, hoping to get an idea of the turnout, said Smith and Wiske-man. If successful, the workshop will probably be repeated.

Using computerized assessment records that show the age of buildings, Smith said the organizers will send invitations to homeowners with properties 50 years old or older -- about 760 people.

"We weeded out a few, where the people lived in Florida or something. We didn't think they'd come," she said.

The ages of many downtown commercial buildings weren't available, she said, but the organizers hope the owners will see posters and fliers around town.

Notices about the workshop have also been sent to neighboring county historical societies and municipalities, and it has been advertised in Old House Journal.

"It's open to whomever would like to come," said Wiskeman. "Other historic districts have done this, but they really didn't invite the public. They usually just invite the district commission members."

A speaker from the Maryland Historical Trust will talk about tax incentives for rehabilitating historic buildings, which Wiske-man hopes might encourage people to make renovations according to the commission's guidelines.

Encouraging this kind of improvement might be better than trying to push for a zoned historic district -- which the politicians don't support -- Wiskeman said.

"The historic district idea in Westminster has really not gotten very good press," Wiskeman said, noting stories about dictatorial acts by commission members in other towns.

Only two owners -- the chairman of the commission and a former city councilwoman -- have placed their properties under the historic commission.

"Why should people do it, if their neighbors don't have to follow suit? You could be penalizing your own property if your neighbor can paint his house purple and orange. Unless everybody in a certain area is going to comply, it may seem silly," she said.

"They fear we will tell them what to do with their property.

"So we thought if we did some community-based events like this, maybe we would be able to put it in a better light. We're trying to get attention by doing nice things," she said.

In this vein, the organizers are already planning a tour next Christmas of historic homes on Willis Street, similar to their successful 1996 event in Belle Grove Square.

"This is the first time we've attempted this," Wiskeman said of the free workshop. "People might become more aware of what we do as a commission -- that we're not these mean people."

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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