Excerpt from Frederick News-Post:
Historic preservation has no place in the planned demolition of a house in Frederick’s Magnolia Avenue neighborhood.
The city Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday deemed the property ineligible for a special historic designation. The 4-2 vote ends the pursuit of a historic preservation overlay for the house at 210 Magnolia Ave., and lets property owners move ahead with plans to raze their home and rebuild.
The decision also cuts short the grassroots opposition movement started in June after the property’s owners, Marlon and Tanya Artis, submitted a request for demolition. Neighboring residents criticized the plans to replace the two-story house with what they dubbed a “McMansion,” fearing the larger, more modern structure would detract from their community.
After hearing a litany of such concerns at its July meeting, the commission decided to submit an application for an overlay, hoping that more information would help shed light on whether the property was worthy of such a designation.
The commission concluded Thursday that nothing about the mid-20th-century, Colonial Revival-style house merits such a designation, echoing the recommendation submitted in a report submitted by Lisa Mroszczyk Murphy, a historic preservation planner for the city. The property has no association with significant historic events, people, data or architects — the criteria that would make it eligible for a historic designation — the report stated.
“These properties are ubiquitous,” Mroszczyk Murphy said. “Why would you designate this one and not the one next to it, or down the street?”
The city’s demolition review ordinance authorizes the commission to review any property that is more than 50 years old and slated for demolition to determine if it meets the criteria for a historic preservation overlay.
The designation does not preclude demolition or renovation. But it gives the city’s Historic Preservation Commission authority to review and approve major exterior changes to the properties.
The vote Thursday came after impassioned pleas from neighbors and city residents, an architect with expertise in preservation and, for the first time, the Artises themselves.
“We did not ask for this,” Marlon Artis said. He described the threats, targeting and hiring of an attorney as the unanticipated consequences his family faced since submitting the demolition request.
The vibrant neighborhood, close to downtown and Baker Park, was the ideal place for the family of four to settle, Tanya Artis said. They also hoped to have her mother, Jeannie Baroutsis, move in with them. The planned renovations include an “en suite” first-floor bedroom and bathroom for Baroutsis to stay.
The couple originally intended to renovate the existing house, but the complexity of the changes, including those required to make it handicapped-accessible, rendered those plans impossible, according to W. Jeff Holtzinger, the attorney hired to represent the property owners. Holtzinger also served as Frederick’s mayor from 2005 to 2009.
Holtzinger urged the commission to consider the Artises’ property rights, which he said had gotten lost amid the neighborhood protest and preservation considerations. As for concerns about the size and style of the new construction, that was not the commission’s place to decide, he said.
But some neighbors who spoke Thursday maintained that the so-called “McMansion” would dwarf their modest homes and diminish the look and feel of the neighborhood. Several also warned of the precedent created if the commission decided not to pursue a historic designation, fostering future raze-and-rebuild schemes across the city.
Baroutsis, 76, expressed gratitude for her daughter and son-in-law’s offer, explaining that the four-hour drive from Frederick to her home in Pennsylvania was too much in light of her declining health and the recent death of her husband. She urged the commission not to let what she called “a small group of prejudiced people” sway its decision.
Tanya Artis also hinted at prejudice when she characterized her family in relation to the other residents of the neighborhood.
“On Magnolia Avenue, we look different,” she said. “We are different.”
She added, “Perhaps a little Magnolia makeover might be good for this neighborhood in more ways than one.”
Artis declined to offer more explanation when asked to clarify her statement after the meeting.
“We just want the neighborhood to heal,” she said.
Neighbor Rachel Toft was not surprised by the verdict on the historic designation. But she said she was taken aback by the Artises’ allegations of discrimination and hostility.
“We have always been welcoming to them,” she said.
She also said that her family has never experienced discrimination by other community residents. She added that she has a child who is black.
“It’s unfounded,” agreed her husband, Bob Toft.
He called the commission’s decision disappointing.
“I think it’s going to lead to Frederick being a very different place in the years ahead,” he said.
The Artises bought the two-story, 1,984-square-foot house in November 2016 for $395,000, according to online records with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.
The couple have hired Mitchell & Best Homes to tear down the house and build a more modern one. Curtis Adkins, company president, said the new house will look similar to another one his company is constructing on Second Street.
Demolition can begin as soon as the city building department grants the requisite permit.