Excerpt from Frederick News-Post:
Blight, structural and safety problems surrounding a prominent historic building in downtown Frederick don’t justify its demolition.
This was the message of the city Historic Preservation Commission, which in a unanimous vote on Thursday denied the request to demolish the three-story building at 56 S. Market St.
The decision ends a discussion spanning several months and multiple public hearings, although it does not prohibit future applications.
The property owner, Suitland Road LLC, can submit a new application to demolish the building, but it must be substantially different than what was already submitted and denied, according to the city guidelines. A plan for new construction, which was not included in the most recent demolition application, would likely qualify as different enough for the commission’s review, according to Joe Adkins, the city’s deputy director of planning.
Suitland Road LLC had sought to demolish the building after two separate engineering reports highlighted safety and structural problems with the front, three-story section of the building. Suitland Road LLC, which lists Montgomery County resident Tarek Aly as its principal, also owns the adjacent pair of free-standing brick facades at 58-70 S. Market St.
The commission in October designated the building as a contributing resource to the historic district, noting its prominence, architectural detailing and the Coca-Cola sign on the northern wall facing Carroll Creek. The commission can still approve demolition of a contributing resource as long as it does not hurt the surrounding buildings or streetscape of the historic district, the guidelines state.
The guidelines prohibit demolition when the request comes as a result of neglect and deferred maintenance, however. Commissioner Carrie Albee pointed to this stipulation in her motion to deny the requested demolition.
Commissioners have repeatedly faulted the property owner for failing to renovate or stabilize the property in the four years since it took ownership.
“I do not appreciate the pressure being placed on the HPC, based on the statement that this is a public health risk because it has been since the current owner acquired it,” Albee said. “I’m not going to accept that responsibility.”
Abdullah Hijazi, an attorney representing Suitland Road LLC, has maintained that the building’s poor condition resulted from neglect under previous owners. He said the building, thought to be vacant since the 1976 flood, was already in disrepair when Suitland Road LLC took ownership in 2011.
Hijazi said the owner didn’t realize the extent of the structural problems until the engineering report was published this fall.
Redevelopment plans, submitted before the engineering report came out, called for renovating and incorporating the three-story front into the new design. Progress toward redevelopment has stopped and started several times in recent years, including periods in which the commission approved demolition or new construction but the approvals expired before anything was done.
Hijazi on Thursday referred to possible replacement ideas that he said were not finalized before the meeting. This was in part because the property owner was consulting structural and bracing contractors to see if retaining the north wall, or at least the Coca-Cola sign, were possible.
One contractor was slated to attend Thursday’s meeting but could not because of a last-minute emergency, according to Hijazi. Without that testimony, or another contractor with expertise in building preservation, commissioners said they did not have enough information to feel comfortable allowing demolition.
Hijazi said he expected replacement plans would be ready for preliminary discussion at the commission’s Jan. 12 meeting.