Preserving historic space

Change isn't anything new to Hauser.

When he was growing up in the Dunloggin neighborhood of Ellicott City, the historic district "was a mess.

"You know, it was just a small town; it wasn't a historic district," he said. "They had alcoholics and poor sections. It wasn't a great place, but we would go down there. It was a place to shop for all of us."

Even as the town's fortunes have improved, Hauser, 58, has contributed to change in old Ellicott City, giving the green light to some controversial requests in his role as chairman of the Historic District Commission.

Among those is the board's decision to approve a Subway Cafe on Main Street, which opened in 2011 and closed this past December.

"Ninety percent of the response of people talking to me – friends, people I've known forever – was 'Are you crazy?' " Hauser recalled. "People were mad at me. I said, 'You know, I can't tell one business they can come and not another.' … We're trying to help people get projects done."

Outside his role as chairman of the commission, as a private citizen, Hauser is mounting opposition to the county's Phase II and Phase III Burgess Mill plans.

He worries projects that expand the number of rental units around the historic district, with the county's Housing Commission as owner and a management company as landlord, could damage the town's quaint feel.

"I don't think the county should be landlords," he said. "There are places for public housing, there are places not for public housing, and it's rare that you find an area or a district that's unique like this.

"I want the people who are living in the historic district to have a stake in it," Hauser said.

Hauser, who has owned a brick house on Fels Lane since 2000, plans to start a petition drive among residents of the historic district to see what his neighbors think. An initial meeting among next-door neighbors yielded enthusiasm for the project.

But some said they didn't want the focus to be on renters in the historic district.

Hauser's old friend Lilley disagrees that county-owned rentals are necessarily bad for the community.

"I'm not opposed to what the proposal is," he said of the most recent Phase III plans, though he had some issues with the project's setback from the historic Granite Manor house, perched atop the hill overlooking Lot F.

Renters bring "more eyes" and "a fresh perspective" to the community, in his view, and he thinks some retail on the lot, such as a grocery store, could be a convenience for old town residents.

Carbo said the Housing Commission's involvement with the project would, in fact, ensure any housing development remains well kept.

"I think we've developed a track record that we are developing high-quality, market rate-compatible properties," he said. "To attract market-rate renters, we have to maintain those properties."

Historic District Partnership President Andy Hall said housing in the historic district could bring more business to old Ellicott City.

"The idea of residents being able to walk to businesses is certainly appealing, given our historical issues with parking and traffic, so having that population nearby is good in that sense." But, he added, "we just hope that any development is well managed with respect to any environmental impact and maintaining the historic character of the community."

For Hauser's Fels Lane neighbor, Bill Withers, it's about maintaining a careful balance for "this tiny, pretty fragile kind of place.

"I think there's plenty of places to build and develop, and this place should be held as carefully as we would a museum," he said. "Not that everything needs to freeze in place – there's room for change and improvement – but I think it really needs to be done with great care and caution, and the trend seems to be kind of a push for speeding things through."

Hauser hopes to slow down the conversation.

"The push is always to modernize the historic district and increase the density, and somebody has to push back," Hauser said. "Otherwise, it's not going to be worth it."