Panel opts to keep lot apart from district

Landowner wins against neighbors who stressed historic compatibility

September 21, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

In a victory for property-rights advocates over preservationists, Baltimore County's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted last night that a historic district in Parkton will not include a vacant lot against its owner's will.

Whether the board was making a statement about the rights of property owners was unclear, however, as much of the discussion centered around technical problems with the proposal.

The district includes six late-19th-century Victorianhomes on Hillcrest Avenue, all protected in the county's historic preservation program. The owners of those houses proposed creating a district encompassing the lot because they worried that its owner, Donald L. LaFond, would build something incompatible with the rest of the street.

LaFond, who collected more than 1,200 signatures of residents opposed to the inclusion of his lot in the district, said he objected to the idea that his six neighbors could create a mechanism to force him to build something on his lot that is "compatible" with the rest of the neighborhood.

"What is compatible? Who says what is compatible, as long as it meets the regular county zoning?" he said. "I've worked hard 30 years, 40 years so I could build a dream house someday."

The process of establishing a district begins when owners of at least 75 percent of the acreage in an area with historically significant properties petition the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If the commission decides the properties are of historic value and meet the criteria for owner interest, it forwards a recommendation to the county executive, who sends it to the County Council for a final vote.

Supporters of the district said LaFond's property-rights argument is misplaced. Courts have long held that imposing historic preservation restrictions is not a taking of land but just another form of zoning restrictions, said William B. Landis, one of the district's proponents.

Thomas E. Carsky, the commission member who proposed excluding LaFond's lot, said existing regulations for development adjacent to historic properties would allow the commission to review anything he tried to build. But the extent of the panel's control - or if LaFond would have to come before the commission at all - is unclear, said Tim Dugan, chief of planning services for the county.

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