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February 25, 2013

Demolition on The Front Burner

Jill King

The Demolition Delay Ordinance passed recently by the City of Frederick is a concern for many property owners, who have not purchased property inside the boundaries of the Historic Preservation Overlay District (HPD).


Confronted by concerned Frederick residents on this issue, looking deeper into the implications was warranted.


Potential harm to persons owning property outside of the currently planned District should be of grave concern to those who own property or potential future buyers.


Frederick, which was founded in 1745, has a rich downtown heritage, which encompasses the 'Old Towne' currently in the HPD. Some of the homes outside of these boundaries also have protective measures to prevent revitalizing them to modern conditions.


The Demolition Delay Ordinance was validated by the city’s Board of Alderman, on February 7, 2013, with Mayor Randy McClement absent. The unanimous vote concluded that any property not currently in the planning process, and a rolling 50 years or older status, would have to apply for a review process for historical or architectural significance. If the property is deemed to have any prior significance, demolition will not be allowed to occur. Also, grandfathered in were those who had already sought permitting, which would include the demolition process.


Originally, there was a 270-day wait, moving to a 45-day wait for the permitting process. The aldermanic workshop the day before rendered a compromise of a 30-day review. This process runs concurrent with the permitting process to change walls currently identified in the Land Management Code.


Initiated by a year old event, the Land Management Code (LMC) has now been altered due to the partial demolition of Park Hall Manor, a circa 1870 structure owned by Dewey Jordan Land Management Group, which began the demolition on an unpreserved structure, without permitting. Although, the offense here was the lack of permitting, the ball started rolling to force preservation measures on others who potentially could own a home that is unique in character by what is defined in the code or having a significant value in being deemed a historic landmark within the Frederick City limits.


The fact that this property is not on the National Historic Registry, nor within the current boundaries of the Historic Preservation Ordinance Overlay District has enticed the current Board of Alderman to find ways to legislate a preventative measure, so demolition of properties like the Park Hall property does not happen again.


In putting the cart before the horse, the alderman went straight for demolition regulation; yet it still has not designated any punitive measure in solution to future demolitions before applying for a permit. It could happen again with this measure.


Potential properties can be beyond the scope of rehabilitation and have no unique factors to preserve their current stature. By preserving these properties to original status is not only time consuming, but expensive and takes persons of specific – sometimes dying – trades sometimes to recreate.


A history of leaning to preservation has been prominent during this administration, with the passing on July 12, 2012, adjustments to the ordinance known as G-12-17 and concerning the HPOD. In the rewriting process, a slight yet defining renaming of area of concern for preservation is broadened, through the language used. By adding the term 'overlay' as a verb, it describes the need to embellish and protect, even blanketing what is determined to be of historical significance, by the Historic Preservation Commission. Preservation shows the desire to maintain these structures in the original form. This first step implies a potential desire to reel in properties sprinkled throughout the city limits, yet not in the currently designated areas.


With the current ordinance, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is to determine if these properties are “Contributing or Non-Contributing” properties, or sites to the historical value of the City.


Added language recently describes what the HPC is using to determine the status of these buildings, as follows. Section 1002 The Land Management Code, Appendix A of the City Code, (1966) a portion was amended to show new determinations as follows:


Character-defining features include the overall shape of a site or structure, its materials, craftsmanship, decorative details and features, as well as the distinctive aspects of its appurtenances and environmental setting. Character-defining elements make up the overall character, or the unique appearance, of a historic site or structure.


The Demolition Review Ordinance also couples with the Demolition by Neglect Ordinance, which has not been enforced since its addition to the city code. The ideal behind this creates an overwhelming need to maintain structures for health, safety and welfare, although in the current economic conditions difficult to enforce.


A choice is now provided: either pay for expensive upgrades to structures deemed historic to original conditions or do nothing and they can potentially cite you for Demolition by Neglect.


By all reasoning, yes, the main internal architecture of historic Frederick City has been identified and protected; sprinkled homes have not.


With a rolling 50-year contemplation, the HPC is being provided a power to determine new boundaries inclusive of those bought purposefully outside of this district and encouraging growth of businesses or that of fixer uppers.


One of the most significant properties that is going to have to face this regulation has already placed residents on both sides of the issue.


Frederick High School, built in 1939, with additions added in 1955, again in 1966, then major structure additions and renovations added during 1977-1981, has conducted an internal feasibility report in December 2012. The Frederick County Board of Education will certainly face these criteria. Allowing any demolition to this site, without some preservation will not happen.


Developments such as the first subdivision, known as Carrolton, will get potential scrutiny as well as the Ausherman built Monocacy Village. Blighted buildings will be impossible to sell and rehabilitate. Right now, if one owns any property over and a rolling 50-year limit, they will be up for scrutiny. Agents in the know will warn potential buyers.


Once a property has been included into this district, all other maintenance rules will apply.


Even after a year, this plan was not thought through well enough by city officials on an owners perspective.


retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past....


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