Excerpt from the Frederick News-Post:
A proposal to demolish a 19th-century farmhouse and redevelop the land for commercial use will move forward as planned.
The city of Frederick Board of Aldermen on Thursday voted against placing a historic preservation overlay on the farmhouse at 1724 N. Market St.
An overlay is an extra level of regulation on top of zoning requirements already in place. If approved, any major exterior changes to the property, including demolition, would require review and approval by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission or department employees.
The designation application was triggered by the owners’ request to demolish the building. The HPC can review and recommend designation of any city property slated for demolition under the city’s demolition review ordinance.
The commission found the farmhouse eligible for designation because it embodies the “distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction,” one of the criteria set forth in standards by the National Park Service and included in city code. The David O. Thomas farmhouse, named for the owner of the land at the time the structure was built in 1853, represents a “well-preserved and rare example of a late 19th-century, single-family vernacular, Victorian-era dwelling with Gothic Revival style detailing,” according to a staff report submitted by Lisa Mroszczyk Murphy, one of the city’s historic preservation planners.
The Planning Commission also recommended in favor of the designation.
Pleading their case
The aldermen’s 4-1 decision Thursday came amid impassioned pleas from the property owners and representatives, who said the designation would inhibit redevelopment plans. The property is owned by LJD LLC, a business entity formed between brother and sister Donald Jenkins and Janet Wilbourne, according to state tax records.
Charles Carroccio, a Rockville attorney representing the property owners, reiterated previous comments that the current condition of the farmhouse makes it ineligible for a designation. The rotting wood, asbestos and peeling paint — the source of several violations issued by the city’s code enforcement department — as well as modern renovations mean the building no longer meets the criteria for designation.
“I think the house has outlived its purpose,” Jenkins agreed.
Jenkins also voiced concern regarding the cost to restore the property to good condition, estimated at $300,000 to $600,000 according to contractor estimates submitted to the city last month.
Galen Clagett, president and CEO of Clagett Enterprises, spoke against the designation for reasons of economic development. Clagett referenced analysis of the 5-acre site his business conducted several years ago in light of proposed redevelopment plans. The highest and best use, according to Clagett, required razing the farmhouse and other, non-historic structures on the site.
Clagett equated the recommended overlay with a “taking” of the property from its rightful owners that would translate to loss in value because it could not be developed to its highest and best use.
“We cannot save every dwelling we think is historic,” he said.
Half a dozen additional family members and other supporters also attended the hearing but did not speak in public comment.
A woman who declined to be identified when asked after the meeting clapped her hand to her mouth, crying, as soon as the aldermen handed down their decision.
“I promise to do my best to make the city of Frederick proud,” Jenkins pledged, his eyes also watering.
Wilbourne summed up her reaction in a single word — ecstatic.
Alderwoman Kelly Russell cast the only vote to designate the property, citing the historic nature of the structure as “worth saving.”
She was outvoted. Although united in their opposition, the other four aldermen offered a range of reasons for their opposition.
Alderman Phil Dacey cited economic development as one of his motivations for opposing the designation. Dacey, as well as Alderman Michael O’Connor, also called the criterion under which the property was eligible for an overlay the weakest of the potential criteria.
“I’d like the standard or burden to be higher when we’re going to talk about where we place an overlay,” O’Connor said.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak agreed that the farmhouse “doesn’t rise to the level” of other properties the city has agreed to designate with an overlay.
Alderman Josh Bokee, meanwhile, cited the neighborhood commercial zone on the property in explaining his opposition to the designation. Razing and redeveloping the site for office or commercial use better fits with the types of use intended for that zoning classification, he said.
Without the designation, the original application for demolition will be granted without delay.