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Historic Guidelines Frustrate Building Restoration

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(Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

(Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP)– When the 248-year-old General Engineering Co. building in downtown Frederick burned last summer, owner Rusty Hauver hoped to rebuild it within a year. But restoring the pre-Revolutionary War-era building at 59 S. Carroll St., the site of a blaze that sent a huge plume of smoke into the late afternoon sky on June 30, 2010, has not been as simple as he hoped.

 

Recently, Hauver and his architect made their fourth appearance in three months before the Historic Preservation Commission with plans that finally met the group’s approval.

 

Hauver said he understands the need for the historic guidelines but is frustrated by what he sees as inequitable regulations.

 

“It’s just a difficult process,” Hauver said the day after the commission’s approval.

 

Commission member and architect Gary Baker said the extra meetings were necessary to make the application comply more with the guidelines, and the result is a better project.

 

“I think we’ve made major strides,” Baker said July 29. “It has evolved nicely. It was well worth it.”

 

However, Baker cast the only vote against approval because some of the project’s details– such as brick pattern, roof material and color– were not clearly defined.

 

“(Hauver) won, and the city lost, as far as I’m concerned,” Baker said. “It’s the details that will make it sing.”

 

Commissioners agreed to let city staff sign off on the best masonry cleaning method and roof features instead of the commission.

 

“I really think the commission ought to be more involved,” Baker said, adding the city would not be what it is without the historic district guidelines, which he helped draft. “I live and breathe this. Buildings speak to me. I have this passion.”

 

Hauver received approval to both rebuild and add to the historic site.

 

City Alderman Michael O’Connor, a nonvoting liaison to the commission, said the process is not perfect but worked well in this complicated case, which involves old and new structures.

 

The existing building includes two parts, one built circa 1762 and another in 1860. Hauver’s new design includes raising the ceiling height of one section and adding a second floor to it, and building an elevator tower. An entirely new roof will be needed.

 

Hauver has had his manufacturing business at the location since the 1970s. The site is used for assembly, storage and sales of water and sewer pipe fittings.

 

His company designs the fittings, which are made at foundries elsewhere, and then shipped to Frederick for assembly and sales around the United States, he said. He has 10 employees. The business predates the city’s land management code and historic district guidelines, and is allowed to operate even though it does not conform to current code. As a nonconforming use, it can be rebuilt after the fire but cannot be modified to increase its nonconformity or make it less suitable for a permitted use in the district.

 

The restored building will have space for Hauver’s needs and additional space to lease. He designed it with the idea it would make attractive office space and possibly house an upscale restaurant. The city has a new parking deck across the street along with the William Donald Schaefer building that houses the Department of Social Services.

 

Both of those buildings have design features Hauver had tried to incorporate into his building, but historic preservation guidelines ruled them inappropriate.

 

“The city can do it, but I can’t,” he said. “That’s been my fight all along.”

 

Baker and O’Connor said Hauver is mistaken to see inequity.

 

Baker said some of the features Hauver could not use were approved by previous preservation commissions that did not strictly adhere to the guidelines, and some are on buildings that are not in the Historic District.

 

O’Connor said even within the district, different buildings allow for different decisions.

 

Allowing Hauver some leeway on some of his details now will add to the inconsistent application of guidelines, Baker said.

 

For example, based on the guidelines, Baker recommended a traditional standing seam metal roof instead of the prefabricated style Hauver intends to use.

 

Hauver said he has not been able to find a craftsman capable of manufacturing an affordable, high-quality traditional standing seam roof, and the commission let him go with a prefabricated metal roof.

 

What’s more, Baker said, future applicants might use Hauver’s building to justify a request for a nontraditional roof.

 

Hauver is satisfied with the overall redesign that the commission approved, and he agrees that some of their suggestions made the building look better.

 

O’Connor said the staff and commission exercise care and good judgment in their responsibilities. There are strict guidelines for staff to follow, and the commission has room for discretion, he said.

Neighboring property owner Joan Jenkins was the only public speaker at the commission meeting. She enthusiastically supported Hauver’s plan to rebuild and get the burned-out building back in shape.

 

“I really feel it’s going to be amazing,” Jenkins said.

 

Gil House, a local historian, also attended in support of Hauver’s proposal.

 

Baker said his final satisfaction will depend on what happens next as the details emerge. He commended Hauver and his representatives for making many of the recommended changes.

 

“It’s a landmark project,” Baker said after the meeting. “Now we’ve got a fairly decent-looking structure. I have to compliment the owner on putting up with us.”

 

Hauver still hopes to have the building finished in 2012 for its 250th anniversary. Before breaking ground he must receive approval from the Planning Commission, which will consider both interior and exterior elements.

 

Then the Board of Aldermen must approve the project.

 

“I don’t think any permit process is ever smooth sailing,” Hauver said.

 

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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