Ending midnight demolitions

Baltimore County: Proposal offers a rational process for preserving area's heritage.

July 18, 2000

IF THE County Council adopts legislation drafted by a citizens committee, saving historic structures in Baltimore County will become a more rational process.

Failure to streamline the current arbitrary system means that old buildings will continue to be vulnerable to demolitions done under the cover of darkness. The loss of the Samuel Owings 18th-century Georgian brick home and the 150-year-old Maryvale tenant house, for example, might have been averted by a process that was fair and open.

The Historic Sites Survey Advisory Committee, chaired by civil engineer David Thaler, has offered a rational framework for identifying, preserving and modifying the county's historic properties.

The 3,000 properties now on the county's historical inventory would be classified by their importance. Buildings of indisputable value that could not be razed or altered would be in the first category.

The second group would contain those of less significance that would require Landmark Commission review before alteration or demolition.

The third category would include old buildings not considered to be historically, architecturally or culturally significant. They could be torn down or altered without permits as long as the owners document the buildings' existence.

Other key provisions call for the county to notify all property owners before their properties are placed on the county inventory and allow owners to contest the classification.

As we have seen in the past five years, the current system alienates property owners. Instead of encouraging them to seek assistance in preserving significant structures, the process fosters resistance.

The proposed system is a sensible method for preventing mistakes like the Owings House demolition.

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