Excerpt from Frederick News-Post:
An ongoing dispute between the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and local utility companies reared its ugly head last week with a request to install a portion of a gas meter on the facade of downtown Frederick’s Pythian Castle.
Gideon Properties, a Hagerstown-based real estate investment firm, is set to renovate the early 20th-century building at 20 N. Court St. into seven residential condominiums. According to the plans, a gas pipe riser that provides service to a Washington Gas meter will be visible on the front of the building.
“This is truly the only place we can put [the riser],” project applicant Brandon Mark told members of the Historic Preservation Commission at the meeting.
Frederick Town Historic District guidelines preclude installation of utility equipment on building fronts in the district unless the owner can prove no other option exists. Although Mark insisted that is the case — and despite a positive recommendation from staff members — the commissioners were not satisfied. They agreed to postpone a decision in the case until a future public hearing to give Mark and Washington Gas representatives time to look into more options.
Mark explained that the three-story building encompasses the entire property, with the exterior walls sitting on the property lines.
Bernie Tylor, a media relations manager for Washington Gas, said in an email Tuesday that the meter itself will be placed inside the building and that representatives explored all options and determined the facade is the only place the riser can go.
“Washington Gas is currently working closely and cooperatively with the developer of this project,” Tylor said in the email. “We have explored the options available to provide natural gas service, and this location is the only place for a riser to be installed and still have our facilities be located on his property.”
A familiar fight
The issue is a familiar one for the downtown historic district.
In February, commissioners agreed to allow the owner of a brick town house at 133 W. Third St. to install a gas meter on the front of his building as long as it was moved to a more hidden spot adjacent to a set of stairs. The approval was a compromise that followed months of discussion about the meter placement.
Commissioners voiced a desire after the approval to conduct a meeting with representatives from Washington Gas and other local utility companies to discuss equipment placement. Now, roughly eight months later, no meeting has occurred and commissioners have a similar case on their hands.
“I think we are asking the wrong questions, or perhaps the right questions to the wrong people,” said Commissioner Stephen Parnes. “We need to have a public hearing with our utility representatives here in town, because I think we are avoiding this issue and they are avoiding it by not doing it.”
Parnes said the meeting should include representatives from the gas, electric and cable companies who “are stringing everything that they want throughout this entire city,” while the property owners and officials have no say on how it’s done.
“I think we’re putting undue responsibility on applicants … we need to have the utilities come before us if that’s really what we’re asking for and concerned about,” he said.
While Parnes said during the meeting that he would approve the request, commission Chairman Dan Lawton and Commissioner Carrie Albee both insisted that Mark come back with more proof.
Albee explained that in the 133 W. Third St. case, the property owner — with support and information from Washington Gas representatives — convincingly proved that no other option existed for the meter.
“That is not the case here,” she said of the Pythian Castle. “And while ultimately that may be demonstrated effectively, at present, it is not demonstrated that there is no other alternative.”
Mark agreed to perform further research to ensure that all other options for the meter have been exhausted, which includes contacting the owners of the neighboring Francis Scott Key Apartments and asking if the meter could be placed in an alley they own.
“We’re amenable to any other options,” Mark said. “We’re really taking very careful measures to restore this building as best as we can. I’m not trying to install anything that takes [away] from the historic district. You’re going to see some proposals, probably in the next month, that prove we’re really trying to do a good job at the restoration of this building.”
Tylor’s email said Washington Gas representatives also agreed to work with the developers and neighboring property owners to determine if a better option exists for the riser.