News Column

Mayor, new aldermen question Frederick's demolition review process

July 17, 2014

By Jen Fifield, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

July 17--When making policy decisions, Frederick Mayor Randy McClement said he tries to think of things from Harry Homeowner's point of view.

Harry Homeowner, the mayor said, may not understand that if he goes to make a substantial change to his house, the city of Frederick will consider the house for historic designation just because it is more than 50 years old.

After listening to the city's two new aldermen, Josh Bokee and Phil Dacey, explain their concerns about the city's demolition review process at a workshop Wednesday, McClement said he wanted to take a step back and review the process as a whole.

The city created the process in February 2013 by passing an ordinance stating that each time the owner of a building that is more than 50 years old submits a sketch plan or minor site plan that depicts the demolition or removal of all or a substantial part of the building, city staff and the Historic Preservation Commission are required to review it to see if it should have a historic preservation overlay.

Bokee and Dacey said they are all for preservation of historic buildings, but the city's law may be too overarching and may discourage revitalization in old neighborhoods by making matters more complicated for property owners.

Their comments were backed by attorney Bruce Dean, past president of the Land Use Council, speaking on behalf of the council.

The ordinance establishes a quasi-historic district in the entire city, and developers are "terrified" of the historic preservation process, he said.

"You're really getting big here," Dean said.

Alderwoman Kelly Russell argued that many landowners see the historic designation of their home as a good thing that adds value.

During his first term, McClement and a previous Board of Aldermen created the process to prevent historic structures from being demolished without some sort of review by the city. The elected officials decided something needed to be done after the owners of Park Hall, an 1870 brick manor house on East Patrick Street, demolished the house without a permit.

Now, after the owner submits his plan, city staff has 15 days to make a recommendation to the Historic Preservation Commission on whether a historic preservation overlay should be placed on the property, which would mean that any future change to the outside of the building would need to go through the city's historic preservation process.

Even if staff finds no overlay necessary, the commission still reviews the case.

If the commission finds that the building is historically significant, it has 15 days to move it forward to the Planning Commission for a recommendation, and then to the mayor and board for the final decision on the overlay.

Bokee said the fact that every building in the city more than 50 years old will go to the commission for consideration concerns him.

As the city's housing stock continues to age, it will cause unintentional delays for more property owners, he said, when the city is trying to encourage revitalization.

Referring to Frederick as a "grand old community," McClement said there are several neighborhoods that the ordinance affects.

Follow Jen Fifield on Twitter: @JenAFifield.


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Source: Frederick News-Post (MD)

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