Group seeks to preserve Catonsville history County mistakes create need for historic district, preservationists say

March 30, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Leery of a Baltimore County administration they say has been indifferent to historic preservation, a group of Catonsville residents plans to meet tomorrow to explore creation of a historic district.

The Catonsville Community Conservation Association will bring together county and state preservationists and historians in a panel discussion on establishing a district that would allow property tax breaks in return for approved renovations.

"Baltimore County has been notorious for falling behind the eight-ball on things like historic preservation, and it was the insensitivity of the administration that has fostered this interest," said Jim Himel, vice president of the Catonsville conservation association.

Himel gave as an example a recent error by the county's Department of Permits and Development Management, which issued a permit to demolish Maryvale Tenant House in Brooklandville, listed on the Maryland Historical Trust inventory because parts of the house dated to at least 1850.

Among other incidents that trouble preservationists:

In December, the county acknowledged a mistake in issuing building permits to renovate historic buildings at Hayfields, a controversial golf community being built on historic property in Hunt Valley, without approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

In 1996, the county issued a permit to demolish the historic Samuel Owings House, built in 1767, to make way for an office tower.

In December, a 190-year-old cabin near Sudbrook Park was demolished by a developer concerned that preservation efforts would interfere with his plans for an assisted-living facility.

A Catonsville historic district would require preservation of certain Victorian-era houses in the area, built as summer homes for Baltimore residents who boarded the Short Line railroad for a trip to what was known then as "the country."

Today, many of the large homes remain in good condition and sell for at least $300,000. A historic district designation would require owners to restore homes using federal design standards that would be monitored by the Maryland Historical Trust, said Elizabeth Hughes, administrator of the trust's statewide preservation programs.

That could be costly and a drawback, said County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

Concerned about costs

"I do have concerns about the cost of repairs for some of the older homes," Moxley said. "But it's one way to preserve Catonsville's heritage as an old summer community for the wealthy."

Himel said community activists are uncertain which part of Catonsville would be targeted first as a historic district, but preliminary plans are to establish one residential area and then add to it.

"Over time, more and more property owners will recognize the advantage of the historic district and the opportunity it provides to the central business district," he said. "We'll be protecting the historic ambience and character of the district."

County Council would vote

Hughes said that if residents decide to pursue the historic district, they must petition the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission with specific boundaries. The commission would submit its recommendation to the County Council, which would vote on the district.

"Catonsville has a very wonderful residential district," Hughes said. "The main street has been dealt with unsympathetically in areas by some property owners over the years, but that can be revitalized."

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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