Preservation laws remain tangled Balto. County shows little xTC progress despite Ruppersberger order

September 08, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

More than four months after Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger vowed to strengthen the county's historic preservation laws, the rules on historic structures remain as confusing as ever, frustrating developers and preservationists alike.

Despite a $25,000 state grant and $100,000 in local money, the county is no closer to compiling a list of historic properties, as ordered by Ruppersberger.

And a new review policy aimed at saving historic buildings has preservationists complaining about their continued destruction and builders chafing at increased paperwork and delays.

All sides agree that a reform of the system is long overdue.

"It is time for the county to examine or re-evaluate the landmarks preservation ordinance and development regulations that affect historic sites and structures," said Judith Kremen, executive director of Baltimore County Historical Trust.

Said G. Scott Barhight, who has represented developers who wanted to alter or demolish historic structures: "It's an issue that hasn't come to the fore like it should. It needs to be thoughtfully addressed."

The push to revamp county rules on historic properties comes after the embarrassing demolitions of the Samuel Owings House in Owings Mills in 1996, and the Maryvale Tenant House, in Green Spring Valley in January.

In April, Ruppersberger ordered county officials to put together a complete list of historic structures and appointed a citizens' committee to review the county's preservation policies. The committee's first meeting will be held this month.

The task of compiling the list awaits a decision about whether the job should go to a county employee or an outside consultant, County spokesman Michael H. Davis said. That choice will be determined, in part, by whether the state money for the project can be used to pay a consultant.

The county has started requiring owners of properties listed on the Maryland Historical Trust to post notices if they plan to alter or tear down their buildings. If anyone wishes to contest the work, a hearing is held.

But that move has brought its own problems.

Only Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties require protection of properties on Maryland Historical Trust inventory of structures that may be historically significant. There are 2,900 such properties in Baltimore County.

State officials have repeatedly told the county the list should not be used for regulatory purposes. "It is just research data," said Michael Day, chief of operations with Maryland Historical Trust. "We have told Baltimore County that we are not in favor of their using wholesale our inventory."

The change in policy caught some builders, such as Paul Dickover, owner of a Glen Arm remodeling business, by surprise.

Dickover said that when he went to obtain a building permit to remodel a house in early June, he was told that the 80-year-old home was on the Maryland Historic Trust list.

Dickover said it took him a week to gather the required papers and another several weeks before a hearing was scheduled.

Yet the inconvenience is a small price to pay for protecting the county's historic buildings, said Arnold Jablon, head of the Department of Permits and Development Management.

Kremen, however, says neither preservationists nor developers have a clear understanding of the county's policies and laws.

In July, a subcontractor bulldozed three homes in Timonium that were on the state list to make room for a Home Depot, a month before a scheduled hearing on the proposed demolition. The developer and subcontractor face fines of $3,000.

Davis said the county intends to draft legislation this fall increasing the amount of fines for illegally tearing down a historic building.

But Barhight said development foes are latching on to historic preservation as a tactic to defeat projects.

Compiling the list of historic buildings is expected to take several years. In the meantime, Ruppersberger said, the county will continue requiring owners of properties on the state list to post their properties and go through hearings.

"The procedures are to make sure a mistake doesn't happen again," he said.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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