Preservation commission earns praise from skeptics

Panel takes a stance against County Council

March 29, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Four years ago, critics dubbed them puppets of the Ruppersberger administration. At best, they were considered inexperienced appointees to Baltimore County's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Now, the same skeptics are cheering them on.

In the past month, the appointees have joined their more experienced colleagues on the commission to issue a blunt criticism of the County Council for omitting three buildings from a bill that would have prevented them from being razed.

"I'm very happy to see that they are standing up for preservation. It was a very pleasant surprise," said Melanie Anson of Sudbrook Park.

Anson was among those who doubted that the eight commissioners named to the board in 1997 by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger would take their appointments seriously. The executive quietly overhauled the panel after several battles.

The appointments prompted charges that he was stacking the group to aid developers.

"The people who were appointed [in 1997] were just snatched out of thin air," said Ruth Mascari, a former commission chairwoman who was ousted by Ruppersberger in 1998. "They were people who had absolutely no preservation expertise."

Some of those less-experienced appointees have been replaced with more seasoned ones, including W. Boulton Kelly, an architect who helped create the law that established the landmarks commission.

It wasn't until this month that Mascari, Anson and others became fans of the commission when the panel sent a stinging "position paper" to the County Council and Ruppersberger.

The decision to omit three buildings that the commission deemed historic "seriously degrades the integrity and purpose of the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission in carrying out its lawful duties," said the paper, sent to the council and the county executive March 9.

The council's secretary, Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., responded March 13 in a memo to council members, stating that the council "is not obligated to introduce the recommendations of the Landmarks Preservation Commission verbatim."

Ultimately, the council left the buildings - the A. D. Anderson House and the Galloway-Dickey House in Catonsville, and Academy Hall in Essex - off the preservation bill, in part because the owners did not want to save them.

Ruppersberger, in a statement issued through a spokeswoman, said of the commission: "They are well-meaning. They're committed to historical preservation and that's good. We want people who care about important buildings. Obviously, they have their own opinions about these matters, and sometimes those opinions don't jibe with the County Council's."

The commission's chairman and vice chairman, both appointed by Ruppersberger in 1997, led the recent charge against the council.

Chairman Robert Scott acknowledges that he was one of the appointees who preservationists expected to be a "rubber stamp" for the administration. But he said no one from the administration has attempted to influence him. And after four years in the job, he's become an eager student of historic preservation and protective of the commission's role.

Vice Chairman David Goldsmith, who crafted the position paper to the council, said he thought the commission had to stand up to the council. But at the same time, "we don't want to set an adversarial role," he said. "We just want them to understand we're an independent commission."

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