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Advertise on the Tentacle

July 25, 2002

Mayor Needs Training, Not HDC Members!

Linda & Tony Checchia

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently included the City of Frederick on its 2002 list of "America's dozen distinctive destinations," identifying the "best-preserved and unique communities in the United States." This enormous national recognition and honor confirm what we have long professed: Frederick is indeed a special place of unparalleled architecture and historic downtown charm and an amazing city in which to work, live, visit, and play.

We maintain that the work of the City of Frederick's Historic District Commission (HDC) has significantly contributed to preserving the beauty of the historic downtown area according to its guidelines - while still acknowledging changing times, issues of economic viability and special circumstances.

Though HDC is repeatedly attacked for various reasons - being inconsistent, not being user-friendly, posing undue hardships upon those who come before it - all exterior changes to structures located within the Historic District must receive the body's stamp of approval.

As stated in the HDC's newly revised and updated guidelines (, "the Commission reviews all exterior changes to Historic District properties regardless of whether or not the proposed changes are visible from a public way. Depending on the nature of the project and its impact on the historic resource, the commission might exercise a certain degree of flexibility when reviewing such proposals."

The guidelines state that the following areas are within HDC's purview:

New construction including but not limited to:

Consider the following two examples of the breadth and scope of HDC's impact on exterior changes: HDC found that the scale and detailing on this alley/doorway (Picture 1), which was constructed prior to HDC approval to replace a chain-link alley/gate, was too large and in competition with the home's main door. Therefore, HDC did not grant the owner approval and required him, instead, to remove and redo the entire alley/doorway.

Picture 1

In another case, HDC heard a complaint from a neighbor who was concerned that the repair to this front stoop (Picture 2), while necessary due to its decay, would be out of character with the property unless the owner tinted the concrete to give it a false sense of age. In addition to the fact that the owner was already planning to reinstall the original railings so as to preserve the integrity of the entrance stoop, HDC agreed with the neighbor and required that the property owner tint the concrete.

Picture 2

In addition to governing exterior changes, HDC's guidelines go on to cover other contemporary items such as utility boxes and mechanical equipment. The exact language from the guidelines reads:

"Utility Boxes

In general, the Commission will not approve the installation of utility boxes such as gas and electric meters or cable boxes on the primary façade of a building. Such items should be installed on secondary facades. The HDC will not approve removing a utility box from a secondary façade and moving it to a prominent elevation. In cases where the boxes are visible, they should be painted to match the building.

Mechanical Equipment

Because they can detract from both the building and the District as whole, the location of new heating and cooling equipment and other mechanical devices should be carefully planned in both rehabilitation and new construction projects (emphasis added).

Accessories to buildings such as the installation of ATMs, satellite dishes and antennas, utility boxes, and vending machines can impact the District's streetscape and create visual clutter.

Individually, the impact of these items can be relatively small. However, when viewed collectively, these inappropriate additions to the buildings in the Historic District can erode the overall historic and architectural cohesiveness that make the District unique" (emphasis added).

In this case (Picture 3), the owner was granted permission to install dryer vents only on the 2nd and 3rd floor elevations, so as not to distract from the street level.

Picture 3

With this applicant (Picture 4), HDC did not allow additional compressor units to be located on the street level unless heavily screened with landscaping and also required the owner to install screening around a rooftop unit.

To paraphrase one commission member, this property, which is located directly across the street from City Hall, is highly visible and extra precautions should be taken to ensure that the new compressor units do not detract from the streetscape.

Picture 4

With this property (Picture 5), a rooftop compressor was installed, without prior approval from HDC, where it could be seen from the street. HDC required the owner to have the unit removed and relocated to the street level behind heavy landscaping screening.

Picture 5a & 5b

In reviewing certain HDC decisions and in light of the City of Frederick's recent designation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, you can imagine our utter disgust and shock to see that the mayor authorized, at the steps to the main entrance of City Hall and the city's premier courtyard square, the construction of a permanent eyesore to catch rainwater (Picture 6) from one of City Hall's downspouts—without going through the process of receiving HDC's input and approval. Such a contraption, given its prominent location and permanent nature, would certainly require HDC review.

A few weeks ago, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty criticized the HDC for its lack of training. Yet, with the installation of chained, black water barrels at City Hall's main entrance, instead of perhaps a discrete device around the corner shielded by landscaping and painted green (as suggested in the HDC guidelines referenced above), the mayor seems to be the one in need of training.

Had she taken the appropriate approach and followed proper procedures, HDC would have quickly recognized the error and surely come up with an effective and aesthetically pleasing compromise that would serve the dual purposes of water conservation in this period of drought as well as set an example of how to effectively blend new contemporary components into the Historic District.

And, instead of blasting the HDC, the mayor could have led by example and benefited from the expertise and advice one receives when working with the HDC.

The Mayor's unilateral and rash rush to action demonstrates yet again her disregard for due process as well as her blatant disrespect for including the citizens of the great City of Frederick - especially those who give of their time and talent to serve on the HDC - in making decisions that allow Frederick to continue to live up to its fullest potential.

In short, the Mayor does not always know best.

Picture 6a & 6b

Can someone please point the mayor in the direction of the next HDC workshop?

Picture 6c

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