County expands its list of historic properties

Centuries-old farmhouses among additions


The Baltimore County Council added two dozen properties in Towson and a dozen structures elsewhere to the county's list of protected, historic landmarks last night.

The Towson structures include centuries-old farmhouses at Cromwell Valley Park, a Depression-era bank, the 19th-century Shealy family cemetery and Towson High School.

"A lot of them were landmarks that set the mood in Towson. They create this older, small-town feel," County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said.

Gardina said many older buildings in Towson could be in danger of being demolished as the county begins planning the comprehensive redevelopment of the county seat. An "Urban Design Assistance Team" is to meet this week in Towson.

The team of planning experts will be working in Towson from Thursday to June 13. They will set up a "studio" in Towson Commons, in the space that had been occupied by Borders Books. Residents are invited to drop in to see the planning and talk with the team members.

"You want to preserve the traditional look of Towson," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. "You don't want everything new. You want to have the new blend with the old."

To become a historic landmark, a building must pass the muster of the county Landmarks Preservation Commission and then the county executive, with the County Council giving final approval.

The properties added to the list last night are the most considered by the council in one sitting since at least 2003, according to Patricia L. Bentz, executive director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust.

That year, the council added 12 properties to the list, followed by 24 in 2004 and 30 last year, she said.

The council has added 62 structures to the list this year, and dozens more are being considered for the list by the end of 2006, Bentz said.

Historic Towson Inc. has become more aggressive in lobbying to put structures on the list, recently producing an inventory of older structures it wants protected.

Carol Allen, the group's president and a Landmarks Preservation Commission member, said the council's 2003 decision to deny protected status to a pre-Revolutionary house on the Greater Baltimore Medical Center campus led the group to be more "proactive" about preservation. "We felt, `Well, this is a wakeup call,'" Allen said.

Bentz said preservation backers have benefited recently from new appointments on the 15-member Landmarks Preservation Commission who have been more receptive to adding structures to the list.

The LPC has "turned around, and it has very qualified, for the most part, very qualified commissioners on there," Bentz said.

The farmhouses, barns and other structures in Cromwell Valley added to the list "represent the historical evolution of farming from the middle 1700s to the middle 1900s in Baltimore County," according to research by the county Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Other buildings added to the list include: the Baltimore County Bank building at York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in Towson; the old Carver School building on Lennox Avenue in East Towson; the Mount Zion AME Church in Long Green; and the 19th-century Batchelor's Store in Hereford.

But not all property owners are in favor of having their buildings on the list.

At a Landmark Preservation Commission hearing last year, members of the Odd Fellows Lodge Hall No. 79 opposed the addition of their Towson building.

Group member John Merryman said the landmark status would hinder his group's chances of selling or rehabilitating the property.

"We couldn't do a thing to that place without going through 15,000 archaeological scenarios," said Merryman. "The paperwork alone would preclude doing it."

The county offers tax breaks for the rehabilitation of historic buildings.

In other action last night, the council unanimously approved the purchase for $456,000 of two apartment buildings in the Yorkway corridor slated for redevelopment.

Council members also introduced bills to ban the parking of recreational vehicles on residential roads.

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