Photo by Ellicott City by Air, 2017.

New Legislation Could Devastate Howard County’s Historic Districts

10/10/2018
By Preservation Maryland

On October 1, 2018, CB75-2018 was introduced during a legislative session of the Howard County Council. This new legislation could radically upend over forty years of preservation planning and investment in one fell swoop.

This legislation would establish a dangerous precedent by eliminating the independent nature of the county’s Historic Preservation Commission and would likely subject the county to innumerable legal challenges and appeals to its long-standing historic preservation program.

Background & Potential Impact of Legislation

This bill would require 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.” Threats to public safety have always been a consideration of the Historic Preservation Commission, but this bill mandates approval, essentially eliminating the decision making process of the commission. A similar bill was proposed in the Maryland General Assembly during the most recent legislative session and was overwhelmingly opposed and defeated due to the clearly negative consequences of its enactment.

CB75-2018 would have a devastating impact on preservation efforts in Ellicott City and throughout Howard County.  In effect, the bill would eliminate the independent nature of the preservation commission by requiring the council to approve demolitions and alterations under the pretense of an ill-defined threat to “public safety.” Public safety is not defined within the legislation, and due to that vague wording, CB75-2018 would be easily manipulated to allow for inappropriate changes and demolitions throughout Ellicott City and Howard County. Everything from floods to fires could be a pretense for demolition or alterations to a historic structure – and the commission would have no ability to reach a reasonable decision.

While this 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’s impact would be felt long after – and would impact historic properties in all areas of the county. If enacted, the new law could upend decades of planning and investment in Howard County’s historic districts. In years to come, it could be used as the justification to circumvent historic district protections and to bring about the demolition or severe alteration of Howard County’s historic resources.

Train cars at the ca. 1830 B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City.

In addition, the inclusion of the term “structures of unusual importance” is extremely concerning. Considering the location of the unusually important National Historic Landmark B&O Railroad passenger station at the bottom of the hill in Ellicott City. It should be noted that this structure is the oldest remaining passenger train station in the United States, and one of the oldest in the entire world. With the passage of this legislation, there would be nothing to stop the pursuit of demolition for this critical resource – and dozens more like it.

The history and heritage of Howard County must be protected for future generations.

Citizens in Howard County and across the state are encouraged to take action by contacting the Howard County Council to ask them to vote NO on CB75-2018. If you live in Howard County and would like to make your opposition to this bill heard, you can sign up to testify against it at the Howard County Council meeting on October 15, 2018 at 7PM at the George Howard Building.

Contact Howard County Council

Howard County residents: Sign up to testify

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Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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