Historical planner is about to become history As money runs out for his job, some fear preservation doomed

November 29, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

As county officials weigh the pros and cons of adopting a historical preservation plan, the first of its kind in Carroll, the man who drafted the 167-page document is packing up his papers and preparing to leave.

The departure of Kenneth Short, the county's historical preservation planner, worries those who want to see the plan adopted. Some fear the plan will be shelved when Short leaves next month; others say that even if the plan is adopted, it may not be implemented.

"I'm afraid the historic preservation plan that is being considered will simply be another plan that sits on the shelf gathering dust, without the historic planner to implement it," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who will leave office when his term expires Dec. 7.

Short's position was eliminated from the county budget in January, when Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates rejected a $26,400 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust. The state grant would have allowed the county to retain Short in 1999.

But the county had to match the grant, an expenditure Dell and Yates refused to approve. Dell noted concern that historical preservation would infringe on private property rights; Yates said his vote was based solely on the cost to the county. Brown was absent during the vote Jan. 29, and the board's decision was not made public for two months.

"I still think it was a mistake not to put up the money that was required," said Brown. "I think that in years to come, the county will come to regret the actions of this board."

During his seven-year tenure, Short has been taking an inventory of Carroll's historic sites, a process that has been going on sporadically since 1970.

He was also instrumental in shepherding Union Bridge, New Windsor, McKinstrys Mill and Lineboro onto the National Register of Historic Places. The designation provides tax credits for restoration but does not bar changes or demolition.

For the past 18 months, Short's primary responsibility has been to draft the preservation plan, which would identify and preserve the county's historical and cultural sites, including working farmland and scenic vistas.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the County Office Building at 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

If approved by the commission, the plan will be forwarded to the new Board of County Commissioners for adoption. But persuading the commissioners to embrace the plan may prove difficult.

Both Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who will take office next month, are strong proponents of private-property rights. Julia Walsh Gouge, a former two-term commissioner who will start her third term next month, supports development in areas where there are adequate facilities to support growth.

Said Dell, who was elected to a third term in November: "We'll have to wait and see what the planning commission recommends. However, I'm not sure we need it. I feel we already have enough agencies in the county looking after our historic sites -- the Farm Museum, the Historical Society of Carroll County and the Maryland Historical Trust."

And even if the plan is adopted, it may be hard to initiate without a historical planner on staff. Funding for Short's position expires Dec. 18.

Said John McGrain, historical planner for Baltimore County: "It would certainly not be easy to implement the preservation plan without a historic planner. They would have to find someone else to survey the properties."

Historic sites are everywhere, "often hidden in the trees and on farms," McGrain said. More than 2,700 historical structures have been identified in Baltimore County.

Officials there are reviewing their approach to protecting historical properties after preservationists, stung by the demolition of three historic sites, said the county favored developers.

The 1767 Samuel Owings House in Owings Mills was razed to make room for an office tower after County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger rejected listing it as a protected structure. A 190-year-old cabin in Pikesville and a 19th-century house in Brooklandville were also demolished.

Leaders in Frederick County adopted a historical preservation plan two years ago. The plan was about 20 years in the making.

"We went for a long time without a historic planner," said James R. Shaw, who has been director of planning for Frederick County for 25 years. "We never really got the preservation plan off the ground until we got someone in that position full time.

"I would say, from our experience, that if you're going to adopt a plan like this, you must have someone full time, or very nearly."

The Frederick County plan encourages, but does not require, landowners to apply for historical designation. The plan also helps property owners find uses for older buildings.

The Carroll County plan would mirror Frederick's in many respects.

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