House is razed without permit

County trust opposed owners' plan to level historic home, sell land

October 22, 1999|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN STAFF

The 145-year-old centerpiece in a heated battle over historic preservation in Cockeysville is now a pile of rubble.

Since early this year, Mary and Bill Kraft have been fighting to demolish the stone house they've owned for 36 years, and sell the property to Towson Ford. But Baltimore County preservationists have struggled to save the historic house, which was built by a famous stonemason and was the last of a cluster of elegant Greek Revival-style stone houses at the end of Old Padonia Road.

A hearing was to be held in December to decide the structure's fate.

But over the weekend, the house was demolished without a permit, county officials said. Now the department of permits and development management is launching an investigation.

"We denied the razing permit pending a decision by the Board of Appeals in December," said county buildings engineer John Reisinger.

"We can't allow people to simply do this without facing some consequences," he said. "We will be withholding permits for future work on that site because the demolition was done illegally."

If found guilty, violators also could face a fine of $1,000 and possible criminal action, he added.

An attorney for the Krafts said yesterday he has no idea who tore down the house. The Krafts could not be reached for comment.

In a telephone interview more than a week ago, Mrs. Kraft said Towson Ford lent the couple the money to buy their new house in Pennsylvania. Efforts to reach Towson Ford attorneys were unsuccessful.

"I couldn't live there another moment. I was hysterical," Mrs. Kraft said in that interview. "It's so unfair because we can't do a thing until we get a permit to demolish. It was the worst hardship I've ever gone through in my entire life."

No notification of status

The problems began in June after the Krafts arranged to sell their house to Towson Ford, a neighboring car dealership that had expanded into land adjacent to their back yard. Their house was surrounded by commercial development, including a masonry company and the light rail.

But when the couple applied for a demolition permit in June -- a crucial part of a deal with Towson Ford to sell their property -- the Krafts discovered that the house had been placed on a Baltimore County historical list 20 years earlier.

Members of the Baltimore County Historical Trust argued that the Kraft home -- known as the Thomas Fortune House -- was the last of several stone houses built by the master stonemason, who owned one of the area's many quarries. Fortune built the house from the same local stone used to construct the Washington Monument.

The Krafts, who bought the 11-room house in 1963 for $10,500, were not notified when their house was placed on the historic list in 1979. In many cases, property owners receive no notification when they are added to the list. Yet under county law, a homeowner must apply for a waiver to demolish any building on the list.

Efforts are under way by a county commission to improve the notification process for owners of historical structures.

Not a unique occurrence

County historian John McGrain said that although the Kraft house is gone, a set of high-quality photographs remains for recordkeeping.

For Ruth Mascari, chairwoman of the county trust, photos are not enough.

"That house was simply mowed down," Mascari said yesterday. "I am shocked but not surprised. It reiterates a long line of other issues where certain parameters and regulations were simply not followed. This is not the first time an historic house has been destroyed without a permit.

"It is a disappointment because we are playing by the rules, and somebody else isn't," she said.

Pub Date: 10/22/99

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