Elkton dis­cusses nar­row­ing his­toric district

Mayor aims to de­crease bur­den on prop­erty own­ers

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By BRIANNA SHEA

bshea@ce­cil­whig.com

— The town board re­cently dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing the town’s his­toric district smaller so that prop­er­ties that lie in that district, but have no his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, can be more eas­ily de­vel­oped.

Cur­rently, the town’s his-

ELKTON

toric district in­cludes down­town lo­ca­tions, Holly Hall, Elk Land­ing and Elkton Mid­dle School, said Jeanne Min­ner, town di­rec­tor of plan­ning.

But Mayor Rob Alt said he be­lieves the cur­rent his­toric district over­lay zone is “al­most too broad” and he’d like to see if it’s pos­si­ble to make it more spe­cific. On Fri­day, Alt said mak­ing the area smaller would al­low prop­er­ties with his­tor­i­cal value, such as build­ings built in the 1800s or be­fore and even some built in the early 1900s, to be pre- served, while al­low­ing other build­ings with no his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance to be more eas­ily im­proved with­out go­ing throughough a lengthy per­mit­ting process.

Dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s work­shop meet­ing, Alt said he’d like to know if it’s pos­si­ble to just des­ig­nate spe­cific build­ings, in­stead of whole ar­eas, as his­toric.

The pur­pose of a his­toric district is to pre­serve sites and struc­tures of his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance, such as ar­eas of

build­ings in his­tor­i­cal sites and build­ings with cer­tain ex­te­rior ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, among other fac­tors, Min­ner said. To make ex­te­rior changes to a build­ing or struc­ture that falls in the his­toric district, a prop­erty owner must ap­ply for a work per­mit from the town’s His­toric District Com­mis­sion, which con­sid­ers such pro­pos­als in or­der to en­sure build­ings in the zone ad­here to his­toric de­sign stan­dards.

Alt noted that all prop­erty own­ers who want to make ex­te­rior changes to their homes or build­ings must go through th­ese ex­tra steps if they fall within the district. For ex­am­ple, some­one who rented a build­ing that lies within the his­toric district over­lay zone and wanted put up sig­nage pro­mot­ing their busi­ness would have to get ap­proval from the His­toric District Com­mis­sion along with other per­mit­ting agen­cies, he said.

Com­mis­sioner Jean Broomell noted that a re­fine­ment of the his­tor­i­cal district could save some prop­erty own­ers on the cost of per­mit­ting, as it costs $50 to have the His­toric District Com­mis­sion hear a case due to the le­gal obli­ga­tion to ad­ver­tise a meet­ing.

Mean­while, Com­mis­sioner Mary Jo Jablon­ski asked whether it would be pos­si­ble to iden­tify the truly his­toric prop­er­ties within the district,

not­ing that there are prop­er­ties on Main Street that were to­tally re­done in the 1960s or 1970s and may no longer have his­toric value but still fall within the his­toric district.

“I don’t want to de­stroy any of the his­toric prop­er­ties,” she said, not­ing her reser­va­tions.

The His­toric District Com­mis­sion would sup­port the mayor and com­mis­sioner’s de­ci­sion to reach out to a con­sul­tant to look at the his­toric district, said Paula New­ton, chair­per­son of the district and pres­i­dent of the Ce­cil County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, on Mon­day.

“Ev­ery­body in­volved with this is­sue and with the town will work as a team to come up with what we think is the best for the town,” she said. “There’s no sense in hav­ing guide­lines or or­di­nances if they’re not en­force­able or un­rea­son­able. It’s got to be a fair fit for all the prop­erty own­ers in town.”

New­ton added that the his­toric district is an im­por­tant part of the county seat.

“It’s im­por­tant for the town to have a his­toric district be­cause along with that comes grant money and the des­ig­na­tion has a sig­nif­i­cance as far as tourism, and those are all im­por­tant things,” she said, adding that she agrees the zone does cre­ate more hur­dles for those look­ing to make changes. “But we’ve al­ready lost a lot of our his­toric struc­tures due to progress.”

She noted that the orig­i­nal Columbia Bank on North Street was torn down to make a park­ing lot, while a new Columbia Bank was

built as a re­place­ment.

New­ton ar­gued that be­fore mak­ing any changes to the his­toric district, the mayor and com­mis­sion­ers should agree on their goals for the town.

“There’s cer­tain struc­tures that are out­side of the ob­vi­ous his­toric district, which is down­town, that I think need to be pre­served, but there’s a lot of things in be­tween that re­ally don’t hold a lot of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance,” she added.

New­ton ex­plained that the His­toric District Com­mis­sion will soon use an up­dated set of guide­lines drafted for the town by Com­mon­wealth Her­itage Group, a con­sult­ing firm, to de­ter­mine whether a struc­ture con­forms to his­toric de­sign stan­dards, in­clud­ing win­dows, sid­ing and roof­ing, among oth­ers.

“The guide­lines are writ­ten based on the Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Stan­dards,” she said. “That’s what ev­ery his­toric district goes by, that’s your start, but then most towns do have some­thing that’s spe­cific to their town and that’s what this is.”

On Mon­day, Min­ner said the town has not re­ceived the fi­nal draft of the de­sign guide­lines, but both the His­toric District Com­mis­sion and the mayor and com­mis­sion­ers will re­view them be­fore their ap­proval.

As for look­ing at in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties in the his­toric district, New­ton said she un­sure of the cri­te­ria for de­cid­ing what is “his­toric.”

“That would be some­thing for the Mary­land His­toric Trust and prob­a­bly the town

lawyer to de­cide, be­cause how can you tell one per­son from this house, ‘You’re now go­ing to have to ad­here to the his­toric guide­lines,’ but the house next door doesn’t,” New­ton said.

On Tues­day, Min­ner said there is a por­tion within the or­di­nance that al­lows peo­ple to pe­ti­tion whether they want to be in­cluded in the district.

In 2004, the Mary­land His­toric Trust per­formed a sur­vey on be­half of the State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 2010, an up­dated map was put in the 2010 Com­pre­hen­sive

Plan for Elkton, which showed a smaller area.

But Min­ner said there are is­sues with the 2004 sur­vey be­cause there are sev­eral prop­er­ties that are not des­ig­nated as con­tribut­ing or not con­tribut­ing, mean­ing it’s un­clear whether they have his­toric value. Min­ner said there should also be a more de­tailed and up-to-date map of the district.

She said if the map were to be fin­ished be­fore the town’s 2020 Com­pre­hen­sive Plan were to come out, there would be an amend­ment to

the cur­rent plan and if it is not, it would go into the next com­pre­hen­sive plan. Min­ner could not con­firm when the map would be com­pleted.

To move the plan for­ward, the town would have to dis­cuss hir­ing a con­sul­tant to re­view the build­ings in the his­toric district to de­ter­mine what is “his­toric.” That process wouldn’t start for some time as bids would have to be col­lected from a re­quest for pro­pos­als, and the town may pos­si­bly seek grant fund­ing for such a study, Min­ner noted.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

Elkton is con­sid­er­ing mak­ing changes to its his­toric district, refin­ing the zon­ing over­lay to spec­i­fied build­ings rather than sweep­ing ar­eas.

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