Aberdeen's mayor to Historical Society on B & O train station: 'We're fed up'

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett blasted leaders of the Historical Society of Harford County on Monday for their oversight of the former B&O train station, which he said has recently resembled "Disney World's haunted house."

He warned Society leaders that if they did not get the planned relocation and improvement project done soon, the city might be done with them.

Richard Herbig, vice-president of the Society, presented a timeline for restoring the historic station off West Bel Air Avenue during a city council work session Monday afternoon and promised it would be relocated to an adjacent parcel by the end of 2013.

Council members, however, seemed tired of promises, and Bennett was especially demonstrative about the lack of progress.

"We're tired of this eyesore, and it is an eyesore right now, smack dab in the middle of our growing community," he said.

The last straw was a blue tarp that was haphazardly thrown over the roof in what Herbig admitted was a failed attempt at weatherproofing and was, until recently, regularly seen flapping in the breeze by passers-by along West Bel Air Avenue.

"We've been told all these things since May 16, 2003, things that were going to be done, promised. What makes this time any different from all the times that have come up to this point?" the mayor asked Herbig.

"To be very honest, we're fed up with inaction. We were fed up with the tarp. I sent a letter talking about the tarp and I dare say most folks at the Historical Society would not have wanted that structure in their community looking like that, right downtown," Bennett said, adding that the Society should have taken the tarp down with the first resident's complaint.

"There comes a time when we, as a city, say enough's enough," Bennett continued. "I can tell you as far as I'm concerned, that point has been reached. You've come in with a timeline and I'm willing to hold on a little bit longer. If we don't have things done by the end of this year, then this council is going to have a whole different tack of how we're going to get this done."

Herbig replied that the Society has only owned the property since 2010, before which "it was railroad property, and it was tax-exempt and it was deteriorating."

About the station's relocation, he said: "It will occur in 2013. That's the bottom line."

Bennett disagreed on the ownership issue, saying the society was nevertheless involved with the property since 2003 even if it did not own it.

Maryanna Skowronski, director of the Society, said after the meeting: "The most important thing for people to understand is, until we have a title to the property, there was not a lot that we could do. We can't just move it."

At the work session, Herbig said society leaders just met with two mover finalists who have submitted proposals to the organization, and the choice has been narrowed. The society expects to pay $45,000 to $75,000 to move the building from its current location to an adjoining parcel away from the CSX mainline tracks, but council members were skeptical.

"That would be a miracle to do it even at $75,000, I would think," Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young said. She added that William Cronin, of the Aberdeen Room Museum and Archives, told her three years ago he was working on a business plan and was surprised the society does not have one.

"Here we are, years later, and there's still no business plan when this building is moved and updated," she said.

Herbig said Cronin did not say anything to him about such a plan.

He said a request for proposal would eventually go out, however, as certain companies that specialize in historic preservation might be interested in the project. The society is trying to secure a lot of "in-kind services" to defray the cost of the move as well.

The Society will also hire a consultant at a cost of $13,500 to analyze the flood plain at the new location.

Herbig said the much-maligned tarp came down last week and he agreed with the council that it was a bad decision.

"We were certainly displeased with the quality and color of that tarp," he said. "We used grant money for that tarp and it was kind of an exercise in futility, and we certainly apologize for that."

Herbig said a fine-dining restaurant was considered for the site but because of the flood plain, it would not be possible to have a lower level for food preparation.

"We're looking for professional, commercial or public use for that building. But the main thing we're focusing on immediately is getting the regulatory approval for the site," he said.

Young asked how many vehicles would be able to park there and Herbig replied it would depend on the end use.

The Aberdeen Room will ultimately own the station once the work is completed, Herbig confirmed. The society still intends to partner with the museum on it, however.

"Our primary responsibility now is to move the building safely and secure it," he said, adding the exterior will look "a lot better than now," and the brick facade will be replaced and slate roof returned.

"It's going to be moved, and we learned this last week, very, very slowly. It's a very deliberate process," Herbig said. "They're going to be gentle. They will be gentle with the building."

After the meeting, Bennett said it would be a real achievement to move it at all.

Because of the building's condition, the mayor said, the fire department was not allowed to enter the building if it caught fire. One time, firefighters had to come and pump water out of the ground level to make sure a child would not get caught in there, he said.

"That wood is just so weathered. There is no volume to the wood," he said. "If they make any sudden moves, that building is going to be on the ground."

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