Ellicott City Historic District, 2017.

Amendment Made to Legislation that could have Devastated Howard County’s Historic Districts

10/30/2018
By Elly Colmers Cowan

On October 29, 2018, the Howard County Council passed CB75-2018 with amendments, as advocated for by many Marylanders, that lessens the bill’s original threat to the Historic Preservation Commissions’ independent nature.

After being introduced at the October 1, 2019 legislative session of the County Council, CB75-2018 was denounced by Preservation Maryland and others who were concerned that the legislation would have established a dangerous precedent by eliminating the independent nature of the county’s Historic Preservation Commission. An amendment was made by the County Council in response to the many advocates who testified against the bill at the October 15, 2018 hearing or by contacting the Council with their concerns. The amending language gives the preservation commission the ability to weigh public safety, among many factors, as it considers demolition but will not require that they authorize demolition on the basis of public safety alone.

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Background

The original version of the bill would have required the Howard County Historic Preservation Commission to approve a certificate of approval for a demolition or alteration request if the proposed project is “necessary to protect against threats to public safety, including applications for structures of unusual importance.” Instead, there will now be a clause that calls on the Commission to take public safety into consideration when deciding applications, something that the Commission already does.

While the bill has the obvious intent to further the county’s current plan to demolish a significant portion of historic structures within the Ellicott City Historic District, it is important to note that the bill impacts historic properties in all areas of Howard County.

In a letter sent to the Howard County Council, the County’s Historic Preservation Commission noted that the commission has always taken public safety into consideration and that the nebulous definition of “public safety” could be used in the future to justify work within historic districts throughout the county that would otherwise not be allowed. The Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions, the organization that provides advocacy, training and program support for historic preservation commissions and local governments across the state also came out in opposition to the bill.

This important amendment to the legislation would not have happened without the efforts of advocates who made their voices heard.

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Elly Colmers Cowan · Director of Engagement

Elly Cowan is here to motivate you to get involved in historic preservation and community development by becoming an advocate with us or learning something new at one of our events.

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