Historic commission OKs firehouse additions

Preservationists say changes will disrupt the feel of Main Street

Ellicott City

January 04, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

The Ellicott City Historic District Commission voted 4-1 yesterday to approve plans to renovate the old firehouse on Main Street.

Developers plan to make two additions to the 8,080-square-foot vacant brick building in the hopes of attracting either a bank or retail store. They are unsure of when construction could begin.

Built in 1939, it formerly housed Ellicott City volunteer firefighters.

While Commissioner Richard Taylor, who cast the lone dissenting vote, and several preservationists argued that the project would disrupt the character of Main Street, Commissioner Anita Gallitano said, "You still get the feel of the firehouse."

Lawyer Richard Talkin and developer Donald Reuwer bought the building and adjoining parking lot in November for nearly $900,000. In December, the developers presented two proposals to the commission, which reviews all renovation proposals to ensure they are compatible with the historic district.

They proposed renovating the building to create space for a bank or several retail stores. Two dual plans were submitted because the aim was to gain Historic commission approval before the sale would be finalized.

Developers had until today to back out of the agreement, in which case the county could offer the building for sale again.

During the meeting last month, commissioners felt they did not have enough information to make a decision, especially because they consider the firehouse to be one of Main Street's most important buildings.

"It really marks the beginning of Main Street; it's the first thing people see," said Commissioner Van Wensil.

After the meeting last month, Talkin and Reuwer changed the proposal to include a 15 foot-by-35 foot two-story addition to the west side of the building and a 32-foot-by-50 foot addition to the rear of the building. The additions would be built of brick that closely matches the existing brick and would be built in three phases.

Talken would not say how much the renovations would cost.

Some preservationists worried that the renovations would change the ambiance of the building and argued that a separate building built adjacent to the firehouse or a smaller addition would be more appropriate.

The additions would be "overwhelming," said Kay Weeks, a coordinator of standards, outreach and education for the Heritage Preservation Services, a Washington-based group.

"The form [of the building] would be substantially changed," she said.

But developers said the cost of a separate building would be prohibitive, and commissioners felt that changes would not substantially change the building.

While Talken said he was "pleased" with the vote and looked forward to finalizing plans for the buildings, preservationists warned that the commission would eventually regret its decision.

"The commission has had a problem visualizing the final product," said Sally Bright, a historic district activist. "It's going to dominate Main Street."

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