Tough law sought to protect history

Razing of house stirs Balto. County trust to urge stiff penalties

November 05, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Historical Trust officials called on the County Council yesterday to strengthen what they see as weak laws and penalties protecting historical structures, after the demolition of a 145-year-old stone house in Cockeysville led to $3,000 in fines for its owners.

The Department of Permits and Development Management issued the citation to Mary and Bill Kraft this week for violating the building code, performing work without a permit and not abating the violations, said John Reisinger, county buildings engineer.

The Krafts can either pay the fines or ask for an administrative hearing to appeal the decision.

Ruth Mascari, chairwoman of the county trust, said the fines are not enough to prevent others from destroying county landmarks.

"I think it speaks very poorly that our current statutes have such poor penalties and fines that it is certainly no deterrent to anyone," Mascari said yesterday. "The razing of that house was extremely unfortunate and practically pointless.

"I think this should be revisited," Mascari said. "We want the county to review this."

The Krafts were fined for several building code violations, though not for the demolition, because the investigation is continuing. County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire is looking into increasing the fine for demolishing a structure without a permit to $100,000 from the current $1,000.

Reisinger said, "We've done all we can under what the law allows. We're still questioning people to find the identity of the contractors. When we do that, we'll deal with him as well."

The problems began when the Krafts, who bought the house in 1963, applied for a demolition permit in June to raze the 11-room structure and sell the property to Towson Ford, which was expanding nearby.

But preservationists with the Baltimore County Historical Trust argued in favor of saving the home, known as the Thomas Fortune House, built by the famous mason who owned one of the area's many stone quarries.

Without the Krafts' knowledge, their house -- the last of a cluster of elegant Greek Revival-style stone houses at the end of Old Padonia Road -- had been placed on the Maryland Historical Trust Inventory in 1979.

That designation made it more difficult for them to obtain a demolition permit because it required the approval of a hearing officer, according to county policy.

In August, the Krafts were denied a demolition permit, pending the outcome of a Board of Appeals hearing set for Dec. 4.

Long before the hearing was to take place, someone tore the house down in the middle of the night, county officials said. Residents along Old Padonia Road, where the stone house was located, reported seeing a man and a yellow bulldozer knocking the structure down about 3 a.m. on Oct. 16.

"As soon as they found out the house was gone, we got the citation," said Mary Kraft, who has moved to Pennsylvania with the help of a loan from one of Towson Ford's owners.

"The funny thing about it is that I didn't even know the house was gone until I read about it in the papers," she said.

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