Officials consider creating historic district City leaders discuss economic benefits

December 06, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

By creating a historic district, Taneytown would be eligible for state and federal grants to rejuvenate its downtown, a Howard County planner told city officials.

The planner, Stephen R. Bockmiller, gave 72 business leaders attending an economic development breakfast Friday a vision of what could happen if Taneytown created a historic district.

He noted, for example, that developers and shopkeepers could get tax incentives amounting to 45 percent of the cost for face lifts to buildings, if they used all the programs available.

The tax break could be higher if county and local governments help, he said. In Howard, local government offers another 10 percent in tax incentives for people who restore old buildings.

Taneytown Councilman James L. McCarron saw Bockmiller's remarks as a call to "think seriously" about creating a historic district -- something the council "has kicked around for years," he said.

"We are the most historic town in the county. Taneytown is in a unique position, so close to Gettysburg. This would be one more piece. I think we can toot our own horn a little bit," he said.

First, however, the council "needs to get the facts" about how a historic district would benefit businesses, McCarron said.

"Once everybody understands that this is not tyrannical, but benefits the community as a whole, I think everyone will get behind it and say, 'This is what you need,' " he said.

A historic district could lead to restrictions that are anathema to many business owners, however.

Bockmiller said that can be avoided if a historic district commission allows the kind of leeway given developers in Ellicott City.

The goal in Ellicott City is to ensure that architectural features "are in keeping with the period" in which a building was built. The renovations do not have to be replicas of the original.

"We want to make sure our historical resources are not screwed up by some well-intentioned renovation," Bockmiller said. "We want to make sure that the building in the historic district is an adequate reflection of its own time."

Government and business have worked together in Ellicott City "to come up with an excellent project," he said, showing slides. One was of an old hardware store that has been turned into a microbrewery.

"We returned that building to its former architectural glory while providing a new use and new jobs," he said.

Mayor W. Robert Flickinger said he favors creation of a historic district to rejuvenate interest in Taneytown, but he worries that an overzealous historic commission might impose rigid architectural controls. "I'm totally for it," he said. "But not if it gets too hard-nosed."

Two friends in Uniontown told him recently that they need to put in new windows to cut heating bills, but they were not allowed to because the replacements were not authentic in style. "If you can't get replacement windows to save money, that's wrong," he said.

On the other hand, it is important to preserve what Taneytown has, Flickinger said, noting that the architectural character of one building was covered up with aluminum siding. "It was definitely a downgrade," he said.

City Manager Charles B. Boyles II said Bockmiller's talk to the business leaders "sparks the interest and gives an example of what can happen" in Taneytown.

"People have been saying, 'Why can't we do something like Ellicott City or Emmitsburg?' " said Boyles. "This will give an example and spark the interest to find out more. [Controls in historic districts] go from very, very liberal to very, very conservative."

Edward D. Leister, chairman of the Taneytown Economic Development Commission, is committed to the idea, based on his experience as owner of a small business in downtown Westminster that became part of a two-block historic area.

He was able to refurbish the front of his 21-year-old business with a loan at a better interest rate and longer term than if situated outside a historic district.

"We wanted to improve, but we never would have been able to do it without that opportunity," he said. "We've seen some

wonderfully complementary business come to that area" since the restorations were made.

Leister expects the city economic development commission to take up the issue at its annual planning session this month.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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