Excerpt from Frederick News-Post:

Applause rang out Thursday among roughly 40 attendees at a Frederick Historic Preservation Commission meeting as demolition of a Magnolia Avenue home hit a sizable snag.

The attendees, who were mostly neighbors of the house in question at 210 Magnolia Ave., showed up to Thursday’s meeting to oppose demolition of the house and the construction of another in its place.

The request was introduced June 29, but commissioners postponed a decision on it to gather more information.

 Neighbors have dubbed the expected replacement home a “McMansion,” a slang term for a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity. After the June meeting, they began rallying and had a significant representation at Thursday’s meeting to try to halt the demolition.

The Historic Preservation Commission has the authority to recommend pursuit of individual historic designation for the home, and voted in a 5-2 majority to do so after about an hour and a half of testimony.

Most of the testimony Thursday came in opposition to the demolition request, with only the new home’s builder speaking in favor. A total of 19 people spoke against it.

The owners of the house, Marlon and Tanya Artis, also attended Thursday’s meeting but did not publicly speak.

Marlon Artis said after the commissioners voted that he was surprised to see so much backlash to the request but appreciates the neighbors’ feedback.

“That is why we moved to the neighborhood,” he said of his outgoing neighbors. “I definitely appreciate what they have to say.”

Artis did not say whether he still plans to demolish the house and did not share any other plans for the property. He also did not explain why he wants to demolish the existing home and build a new one and did not offer any details about the projected new home.

His wife, Tanya Artis, was visibly upset after the vote, wiping tears from her eyes, but she did not make any comments.

Speaking against a ‘McMansion’

A common theme among the nearly 20 people who spoke against the demolition of the two-story, mid-20th-century home at 210 Magnolia was a fear of losing the friendly, modest nature of the neighborhood.

“Tearing down an old, established home destroys the integrity of the neighborhood in a permanent way. Once it’s gone, you can’t reclaim it,” said Susie Chaitoritz, who lives next door at 208 Magnolia Ave.

Chaitoritz’s husband, Mike Spurrier, also spoke Thursday.

He provided documents explaining the history of the house and its owners, which he handed to the commissioners. Spurrier works for the city as director of the Frederick Community Action Agency but spoke Thursday as a private resident.

After summarizing the details of his research, Spurrier offered up his own home for individual historic designation as well to prove how sure he was of 210 Magnolia’s eligibility for designation.

“I feel so strongly about this, that you’re welcome to place an historic overlay over my own home at 208 Magnolia Ave.,” he said.

Some speakers expressed feelings of anger as they spoke.

Trish Cunningham, who lives in College Estates, loudly complained about a neighbor who built a “McMansion” near her own home several years ago. She said the house is unsellable and un-rentable now.

The proposed new house “doesn’t fit in our neighborhood and we don’t want it there,” she said.

Other speakers were visibly emotional and upset.

Hallie Burrier, who recently moved to her home at 300 Magnolia Ave., came to the lectern crying. Through tears, she talked about how she and her husband always dreamed of owning a home in Baker Park and worked tirelessly for years to afford one. She explained how they waited for months to bid on what she considers her dream house and beat out a plethora of other bidders to finally buy it.

So when Burrier found out last week that the house next door was slated for demolition, she was obviously emotional.

“That is sad. It changes the face of what Frederick is about,” she said of tearing down the home. “It turns us into Montgomery [County], Arlington. I want to be in a neighborhood that’s aesthetic and moves us forward. We are only on this planet a short time. It’s the homes that are the legacy we leave behind.”

Many of the speakers also received applause as they shared their thoughts.

Bob and Rachel Toft, who live at 207 Magnolia Ave., said after the vote Thursday that they were happy with the decision, but understand it is only the first step in a long process.

“Legislatively, we’re absent some of the tools we need to effectively address these issues,” Bob Toft said.

Plans to demolish and rebuild

Property records show that the Artises bought the two-story, 1,984-square-foot house in November 2016 for $395,000.

The records show the they submitted a request on June 21 to raze the two structures on the property — the house and a two-car detached garage — and build a new home and detached garage.

The request does not contain details about what type of house or garage the Artises plan to build, and no building permits have been issued for the property through the city’s permitting department.

Curt Adkins, president of Mitchell & Best Homes, is the builder slated to construct the house. He said at the June 29 Historic Preservation Commission meeting that the home he plans to build at 210 Magnolia is similar to one Mitchell & Best is constructing on Second Street diagonally across from tennis courts at Baker Park. He said the new home is slated to stand at two stories and have four bedrooms. He described it as “relatively normal size for a new home.”

Adkins also spoke briefly during Thursday’s meeting.

He urged the commissioners to keep in mind the request at hand: to determine whether the house meets criteria for individual historic significance.

“I think the mission here is to decide whether it meets the criteria or not,” he said. “I know there are a lot of other thoughts and opinions, but at the end of the day, does it meet the criteria?”

Policy in action

According to the city’s Demolition Review Ordinance, which the Board of Aldermen passed in 2013, the Historic Preservation Commission must review all demolition applications for properties 50 years old or older for individual historic significance.

That means the historic preservation commissioners are required to determine if the property meets the criteria outlined within the city’s Land Management Code for designation for a Historic Overlay District. Such an overlay would require historic preservation employees and commissioners to review any exterior changes to the property.

The house, built around 1950, is categorized as a “Mid-Century Colonial Revival” structure. According to the staff report from June 29, the home is not an exemplary version of a structure from that time period, and staff members recommended that it is not eligible for individual historic designation.

The explanation provided did not satisfy Historic Preservation commissioners, though, which is why they postponed the demolition request until they obtained more information.

Matt Davis, the city’s manager of comprehensive planning, said the only way the Historic Preservation Commission could designate the home as historically significant is if had some other historic element. For example, if a master builder constructed the house, if someone prominent lived in it, or if something historically significant occurred there.

Although the staff report filed for Thursday’s meeting did not find that was the case, the commissioners still determined there was something there to pursue.

Thursday’s vote begins the application process for individual historic designation of the home. After the application is filed, it will go back the Historic Preservation Commission for a public hearing. If commissioners determine it meets the criteria, it will move to the city’s Planning Commission. If it passes there, it will move to the Board of Aldermen for final designation approval.

If at any point it is determined the house is not eligible for individual designation, the demolition permit will be approved and the demolition can move forward.

Commissioner Carrie Albee, who made the motion to pursue designation, said she believes it may be time for commissioners to begin learning more about designating midcentury Colonial Revival homes and sees the 210 Magnolia structure as a place to begin.