The Lawyers Hill area of Elkridge was a 19th century summer suburb for affluent Baltimoreans.
Today it’s known for its Victorian-era architecture and for having virtually no “adverse impacts” marring its historic character.
But the nationally recognized historic district off Interstate 95 could soon see change in the form of a new 17-home subdivision.
Last week local developer Don Reuwer presented the county’s Historic Preservation Commission with details of a subdivision plan, which he said in an interview would include single-family homes priced between $700,000 and $900,000.
Reuwer was seeking comments to take to the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning for approval. The preservation commission has an advisory role regarding the 8.75-acre property because it sits within an approved historic district.
At the meeting, Reuwer told members of the commission he plans to plant a fruit tree in on each property and construct the main roadway for the subdivision so that drivers on Lawyers Hill road cannot see the homes from the street. While he has not finalized the design of the homes, he did show commissioners images of homes in other communities as an option for what his could look like.
The images prompted Commissioner Drew Roth to point out the natural vegetation that currently separates homes in the historic district. Roth, whose own property sits next to the site of the proposed development, called the existing vegetation “a significant aspect of the environmental setting [in] Lawyers Hill.”
Last year Reuwer asked Roth to recuse himself from considering the case, citing the commissioner’s personal interest as a neighbor. Roth declined.
In an email Wednesday, Roth said he “seriously considered the matter and consulted the office of law and determined that it was not necessary for me to recuse myself.
“I have no financial interest in the project and no personal interest other than my normal interest in preserving the history of Howard County,” he added.
At last week’s meeting the commission received testimony from more than a dozen residents — all of them expressing concern or opposition to the development proposal.
“A cookie cutter subdivision in the middle of a historic district just does not belong,” said Cathy Hudson, whose property sits next to the site. “If we are serious about historic districts, then we need to protect them.”
Reuwer contends the property where he wants to build should not be part of the historic district.
The district was formed in 1994 at the request of property owners in the area, according to documents he submitted to the commission. At the time, it was not the intention of the county to include owners “who expressed a desire to not be within the local historic zoning district,” according to a 1993 technical staff report submitted by then-director of Department of Planning and Zoning Joseph Rutter — now Reuwer’s business partner.
Notices were sent by the county to property owners informing them of the intent to create the historic district, and requests to not be included resulted in a dramatic reduction of the proposed district area.
Reuwer said the property’s previous owner, Margaret Pollard — who is now deceased — inherited it from from family members. He said he believes she did not want it to be part of the district, noting that when Pollard got a notice about her own property, less than a mile away, she asked that it be excluded from the historic district, and it was. The land Reuwer is seeking to develop is now owned by a relative of Polland.
During Thursday’s meeting the commission asked Reuwer to re-submit his proposal including more information about trees and grading. He’s scheduled to return to the commission Feb. 7 with an updated proposal.
County Councilwoman Liz Walsh, who attended the preservation commission meeting but did not testify, has filed a council bill that would expand the commission’s authority in reviewing site development proposals in historic districts — such as Lawyer’s Hill.
Walsh said in an interview her bill could only impact this case if it becomes law before Reuwer’s plan is approved.
This article has been updated.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Drew Roth, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.