Maryland Historical Trust Representative Works With Elkton Board to Help Untangle Matters Related to Historic District

Elkton Town Meeting, Sept. 14, 2011 – After an August meeting
between the mayor and commissioners and the Historic and Architectural Review Committee (HARC) created more questions than answers, the elected officials asked the Maryland Historical Trust to help them sort things out.  As a result Cory Kegersie, a preservation professional with the Trust, attended the workshop to untangle things.  I understand “. . . you may have been left
with more questions than answers as to what is historic district zoning and
what it requires. . .  My goal is to help you make informed decisions with what I think is the right information and maybe correct some slight misstatement . . .”  As the presentation started, Commissioner Jablonski wanted to know if HARC representatives were going to attend the discussion.  A staff member said that although no one was present they were notified of the meeting.

Historic districts are a form of zoning overlay with particular rights and restrictions and the commission, a quasi-judicial body, is similar to a planning board, he explained. As a result there are certain things you have to do in a certain way to protect you and your citizens and assure due process in protecting property rights and the legislative rights of government.  In this realm, the commission makes determinations on “alterations to the exterior of buildings, not interiors.”   On that point Commissioner Givens sought clarification,
“in the interior you can do whatever you want?”   The authority is limited to the exterior, Cory assured him.

It is my understanding that the discussion of design guidelines is where the topic got complicated, Cory remarked as he displayed a map showing Elkton’s large inventory of historic structures.  Design guidelines are used for the review, so
it’s not a matter of personal taste.”  It’s a tool that ensures a board is making consistent, reasonable decisions, not rendering opinions based on personal preference.   So they use these as guidelines, not strict enforcement tools, Commissioner Hicks inquired. “The federal standards are broad and there are ten of them. . . To the home owner, getting this short list doesn’t make a whole lot of sense so commissions typically adopt the illustrated guidelines to help owners.”   Cory remarked as he displayed examples from Bel
Air, Cumberland, Snow Hill and other places.

“They come in all shapes and sizes and almost all have lots of pictures,” he noted while pointing to examples of how they provide guidance to the building owner.  The guidelines “serve to let homeowners know what the expectations are and give something the commissioner use in order to make decisions.  The philosophy that underlay the standards gets translated into real world examples.  These are not regulations, but guidelines that serve as policy decision aids.”

“All we want is to protect the historic value and keep the small town façade or feel,” Commissioner Hicks remarked.  “We want to protect that.  New buildings come and suddenly Elkton is no longer that quaint small town with history.
It goes away just like that.” Responding to the Commissioner’s closing observation Cory added that he once told the mayor of Salisbury that “no one ever came to Salisbury to see their strip malls.  In terms of small town feel and appearance, the quality of architecture does definitely make a difference.”

You owe it to yourself to have some realistic and justifiable rationale and guidelines so you don’t end up being the pretty committee,” the state
preservation official emphasized.  When asked how common historic districts were in Maryland, he noted that most town’s Elkton’s size and most that are participating in the Main Street program have historic districts.

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