Facade of leadership? Anne Arundel County: Mayor Johnson needs to bridge divisive historic preservation debate.

January 29, 1998

ANNAPOLIS MAYOR Dean L. Johnson must assume the duty of leading an informed debate on the role of historic preservation in the state capital. No other elected official is in a better position to restore balance in a polarizing debate that could harm Annapolis' long-term economic vitality.

At the moment, no middle ground seems to exist between preservationists and property owners. A nasty battle rages over a brick facade at 184-186 Main St. badly charred in a December fire. Similarly senseless is the determined opposition to plans by St. Anne's Episcopal Church on Church Circle to carve out a basement social hall.

Unless some compromise is reached, Ronald B. Hollander may be forced to spend as much as $100,000 to restore an undistinguished wall, and St. Anne's parishioners will have to continue to walk two blocks each Sunday to enjoy a post-service social.

It must be said: Without the four-decade effort to preserve historic structures, Annapolis would not be the charming city it has become. At the same time, buildings are not holy relics beyond change.

No historic building stands today exactly as it did when built. Generations have altered these structures to suit their purposes, adding rooms, filling in windows, creating dormers, altering exteriors. People living today should not be denied the opportunity to modify -- within reason -- the buildings they own and occupy to suit their needs.

A movement that demands that old buildings never change will sap the city of its vitality. At the same time, some building exteriors are so integral to the city's appearance that they should remain as they are. A consensus must be developed to determine which buildings should be preserved at all costs and which could be altered to extend their useful lives.

Mr. Johnson was reluctant to assume a leadership role while he was an alderman from Ward 2 on the City Council. The former federal government economist forfeited that option when he successfully ran for mayor in the fall. It is he who must bridge the chasm between two important constituencies. Unless the debate returns to the middle ground, Annapolis' future may be threatened.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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