Builder, residents compromise on house

Preservation list request to end

site to be restored

December 04, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Ruxton residents have agreed not to push for the inclusion of an early 1900s bungalow on the county's historical landmarks list in exchange for assurances from a developer that he will restore the house.

Over the past year, the bungalow on Berwick Road became a flash point for community anxiety about development in established communities and for developers' complaints about the county's landmarks preservation procedure.

But this week, just before the County Council was to vote it onto the landmarks list, Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who represents the area, announced that the two sides had worked out their differences.

The builder, Melvin C. Benhoff, agreed to deconstruct the house, saving significant materials, and to move it slightly while maintaining the same orientation on the lot. He also agreed to put only three houses on the lot - including the bungalow and one he has built - instead of the four he originally sought.

The community consented to a property line adjustment that would allow Benhoff to build an addition onto the Arts and Crafts-style bungalow according to plans drawn up by architect Frank Lucas.

"We think it's a pretty good compromise," said John Murphy, an attorney who represented the community.

The case highlights what county planners say is likely to be an increasingly difficult issue for communities.

As a consequence of Baltimore County's aggressive rural-land preservation policies, most large tracts of residential land have been developed. As a result, builders are increasingly seeking lots in established communities that are larger than zoning laws require.

Benhoff bought the Berwick Road lot last year intending to knock down the original house and build four in its place. The plan led to an outcry from Ruxton residents who worried that the loss of the house would do irreparable harm to the fabric of the neighborhood.

In an effort to save the house, they pushed to have it placed on the county's landmarks list. The Landmarks Preservation Commission recommended that it be permanently protected.

But Benhoff argued that the listing revealed faults with the system of protecting historic properties in the county.

Benhoff had checked with the county when he bought the house and found that it was not on any county landmarks lists. Listing it after the fact, he argued, amounted to robbing him of his property value without due process.

The issue landed in the council, which has the final say over landmarks decisions. Traditionally, councilmen get sole discretion over landmark decisions in their districts, and Kamenetz announced a month ago that he would support placing the bungalow on the landmarks list. Still, he encouraged the two sides to seek a compromise before the council vote.

Murphy said that many community members sympathized with Benhoff's position and decided to continue negotiating despite Kamenetz's assurances.

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