Designer defends plan for offices

Architect says Fels Lane project true to historical uses

May 05, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The architect for a disputed office complex proposed for downtown Ellicott City told the Historic District Commission yesterday that the plans are true to the way the property was used in the past.

The complex, proposed for Fels Lane in Ellicott City's historic district, would have 10 office units in four buildings designed to look like 19th-century homes. The proposal also calls for 68 parking spaces.

People who live near the site attended the meeting to oppose the plans, which they said would detract from an early 19th-century house that sits nearby. They said the complex is too large for the area and would overshadow the house.

By 9: 30 p.m., more than 90 minutes into the hearing, the developer's attorney was calling witnesses and the commission had not taken action on the proposal.

Gregory W. Mitchell, a Howard County architect who drafted the plans, told the commission that he's worked with historic structures before and believes the proposed development would not harm the area.

"We feel that these buildings add value to the historic district," he said. "Our research has really shown that this was a mixed-use site, historically."

Dating at least to the 1870s, there were multiple buildings on the property, Mitchell said. By the end of the century, they included a shirt factory and four townhouses, he said.

"Fels Lane has been part of a heavily industrial end of Ellicott City," Mitchell said.

He said the proposed office buildings would be about 34 feet tall, compared with the 33-foot-tall house. But one of the office buildings would rise about 16 feet above the house because it would be built on higher land, he said.

This is developer Michael L. Pfau's third proposal for the 7-acre Fels Lane site.

Each proposal has been opposed by residents, including historic preservationists.

About 18 months ago, the commission rejected his plans to build 27 townhouses on the property.

More recently, Pfau submitted plans to build an office complex designed to look like a farmstead. He withdrew them last month after neighbors objected.

Commission staff members recommended approval of Pfau's newest plans, calling the complex "very well-designed."

Charles Wehland, an Elkridge resident who owns property near the Fels Lane site, told the commission he supports the proposal.

He said the nearby Roger Carter Center is less in keeping with the character of the area than Pfau's plans.

The center, originally a police station, was renovated by county officials after historic district regulations were adopted, Wehland said.

"What is being proposed certainly coincides more with historic Ellicott City than what the county did under historic district regulations," he said.

But residents objected to the office project, calling it too large for the area.

"Projects of this size and mass have an irreversible impact that diminishes the integrity of historic districts and the communities that surround them," said Charles D. Kyler IV, who lives on nearby Sylvan Lane.

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