2 preservationists speak against plan for Fels Lane site

Proposed office complex seen as being harmful to nearby historic building

June 09, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Two preservationists told the Ellicott City Historic District Commission last night that an office complex proposed for downtown would harm the historic nature of a nearby 19th-century building.

Charles E. Fisher, a historic preservationist with the National Park Service, said the home off FelsLane could lose its eligibility for federal tax credits - used for renovating historic buildings - if the project goes forward.

The complex would have 10 office units in four buildings designed to look like 19th-century homes. The proposal, developed by Howard County homebuilder Michael L. Pfau,also calls for 68 parking spaces.

People who live near the site attended the meeting to oppose the plans, saying the proposal for Fels Lane overwhelms the historic property. At 9:45 p.m., more than 10 people were scheduled to testify about the proposal. Commission members said they did not expect to vote on the project last night.

The project's architect said the proposed office buildings would be about 34 feet tall, compared with the 33-foot-tall home, known as the HeineHouse. But one of the office buildings would rise about 16 feet above the house because it would be built on higher land.

Fisher, who lives in Ellicott City historic district, said the house is listed as a "contributing building" on the National Register of Historic Places, and qualified for tax credits 10 years ago.

He called the office proposal "a major transformation of this site," saying the new buildings would block people's view of the house from Main Street. He argued that the grading specified in the plans would greatly change the topography.

"This is just too much new construction," he said. "This is really destroying the significant qualities of this setting."

Richard Talkin, the developer's attorney, said Fisher testified in 1993 in favor of changing zoning on the property, at the same time supporting tentative proposals to build townhouses on the land.

"What did you really mean back in 1993?" he asked.

Fisher said he meant that some development on the site is fine, though he thinks Pfau's proposals aren't beneficial.

"From my experience, there are properties out there that are best saved with some development that's appropriate for the property," he said.

JoEllen FreeseHensley,another National Park Service staff member, also testified that the proposed development was too large.

This is Pfau's third proposal for the Fels Lane site. Residents have opposed each proposal. About 19 months ago, the commission rejected Pfau's plans to build 27 townhouses on the property.

More recently, Pfau submitted plans to build an office complex designed to look like a farmstead. Those received support from the commission's staff, but he withdrew them last month after neighbors objected.

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

The project's supporters testified to the commission last month that the complex would benefit the area.

Gregory W. Mitchell, a Howard County architect who drafted the plans, said the office buildings would not be out of place because businesses used to sit on the site.

"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."

During a break last night, Pfau said his office-building proposal is "about the same amount of density" as the townhouse plans Fisher supported in 1993.

"It's a little mind-boggling," he said.

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