Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

January 19, 2003

Developer tramples on historic district

In recent days in Ellicott City's historic district, a developer familiar with the laws of Howard County razed a structure on Church Road without a demolition permit, which can only be issued with approval of the Howard County Historic District Commission.

As one of the main developers in Ellicott City (and Howard County), Mr. Reuwer's lack of understanding and unwillingness to learn what "historic" means is creating a noticeably slow erosion of the character of Ellicott City that both residents and visitors love and respect.

During the holiday season when government offices were closed and staff was at a minimum, a bulldozer arrived on the property known as the Vineyard and demolished a small barn.

This particular property, once the summer home of H.L. Mencken, is slated for development of three large homes, and the plans have been moving through the development process at the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

In the stack of documents produced during this time, the county advised Mr. Reuwer that it was in his best interest to go early before the Historic District Commission, which he had not yet done.

Nearby residents have expressed their concerns about the compatibility of this new development. They have also been trying to keep an open dialogue with Mr. Reuwer, suggesting less intrusive alternatives on the site.

He had recently been awarded Preservationist of the Year by Preservation Howard County.

For him to say that it "slipped through everyone's mind that a permit was required" is pure folly.

What is at issue here is that Mr. Reuwer has broken and flaunted an important law of Howard County.

It does not matter that he may think the barn is small or not seen from the public way. It does not matter that he may think the barn may not be "historic."

That is for the Historic District Commission to determine in a legal and public process that has been ongoing since 1974.

The Commission has a set of guidelines and procedures that must be followed, because their decisions can be appealed to the courts.

Howard County's two historic districts (Ellicott City and Lawyer's Hill in Elkridge are part of a national network of thousands of local historic districts.

In addition, Ellicott City has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

Howard County enacted this legislation 29 years ago in the belief that its historic resources could be at risk in the future as development moved into this once-rural county.

The legislation has spawned studies, grants, and important public and private investments and initiatives.

Those who live and/or invest in an historic area are rewarded with a sense of continuity as well as a plan for modern adaptations.

The greatest accolades come from newcomers and visitors who are amazed that Ellicott City has retained its historic character while at the same time is keeping in step with the 21st century.

Without historic district protections, Ellicott City long ago would have lost its treasures, both small and large.

An outbuilding is just as important as a courthouse. When it is gone, the tear in the historic fabric cannot be mended.

The long-term risk for him is that he has underestimated the power of the people and will now have to face an even-more entrenched community determined to protect the historic assets of Ellicott City from inappropriate change.

Sally S. Bright

Ellicott City

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