Baltimore Co. demolition permits must undergo stricter reviews Officials issue order after historic house is razed by mistake

January 27, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Amid growing criticism, Baltimore County officials yesterday ordered stricter reviews of demolition permit requests and weighed potential penalties against developers who razed a historic house in Green Spring Valley.

Two top supervisors in the county's permit office will be required to review all demolition permits to check that no historic properties are affected, county building engineer John R. Reisinger said yesterday. He would not comment on potential fines for the developers.

His order was issued three days after the 19th-century Maryvale Tenant House on Greenspring Valley Road was razed -- and Reisinger acknowledged that the county mistakenly issued a demolition permit.

The episode involving the house near Maryvale Preparatory School for Girls is the latest in a series illustrating shortcomings in the county's permit review process, said C. Victoria Woodward, a lawyer representing historic preservationists.

She said she warned county officials months ago to be on guard for a permit application to raze the building, which had for years been at the center of debate between preservationists and owners.

"Permits seem to be issued so arbitrarily and without oversight," Woodward said. "I would hope that someone would come forward and test the law with respect to damages and penalties. The historic properties are irreplaceable once they've been torn down."

Last month, the county acknowledged its mistake in issuing building permits to renovate historic buildings at the controversial Hayfields golf community without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Earlier, the county issued a permit to demolish the Samuel Owings House -- and then briefly suspended construction on an office tower at the site because the development plan did not say the house was to be razed.

In May, Woodward wrote to county officials and reminded them that Maryvale Tenant House was listed on a Maryland Historical Trust inventory -- meaning that a public hearing was required before a demolition permit could be issued. Also, the house might be considered a "contributing resource" to Green Spring Valley's standing as a national historic district, which could have required a hearing.

Her letter was acknowledged in a response from Arnold Jablon, director of the county Department of Permits and Development Management. Jablon was not available for comment yesterday.

On the application for the permit to raze the Maryvale house, an official from BCB Construction Inc. did not fill out a section asking whether a historic building or district was involved.

"That's the kind of oversight problem we have with Baltimore County," Woodward said. "Blanks are there to be filled in."

Also, Reisinger said, the demolition violated the plan for the Westwicke housing development, which did not call for the tenant house to be destroyed.

Attempts to obtain comment from BCB Construction officials were not successful. Similarly, an official from the Towson engineering firm Daft McCune Walker did not return a phone call seeking comment about the demolition.

Reisinger said he ordered the additional level of review because of the large volume of applications handled by staff employees. Reisinger toured the demolition site yesterday to determine whether officials might order it to be restored. He reached no decision, but the tangled heap of splintered wood made that option seem impractical. Reisinger said he is preparing a letter telling the property owners "what they need to do," but declined to elaborate.

Preservationists have said the vacant white farmhouse -- parts of which date at least to 1850 -- celebrated the housing and lifestyle of Baltimore County's 19th-century working class.

But lawyers for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have said for years that the ramshackle house was a safety hazard that should be razed.

When the development plan for Westwicke was approved, the house was on the county Landmark Preservation Commission's preliminary list of historic properties. But after hearing testimony that the house's historic value might be limited, Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the area, did not put it on the final list that was approved by the County Council.

J. Rodney Little, director of the Maryland Historical Trust, said he has urged Baltimore County officials to seek a change in the local law that ties historic preservation to his organization's inventory.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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