WESTMINSTER -- The "Old Stone House" has stood on Liberty Street for more than 100 years, but its future likely will be decided much more quickly.

The fate of the building, owned by Farmer'sSupply Co., will be considered tomorrow when the City Council conducts a public hearing on an application for a demolition permit.

Thehearing is part of the council meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Co.

The debate over the building, which dates to 1875, pits progress against the past.

While city administrators say they don't want to see the vacant building razed, the ownerssay they cannot properly market the property without having permission to level the structure.

A potential buyer could decide renovation costs are too high and want to demolish the building and start from scratch, said Clark R. Shaffer, a Westminster attorney who represents Farmer's Supply. Without a demolition permit, the building can't be razed.

"The site cannot be effectively marketed without some flexibility regarding taking that building down," Shaffer said Friday. "The building's not in good shape, and it could cost a lot of money toput it in good shape."

Last month, City Planning Director Thomas Beyard recommended to the council that a decision on the application be put off for at least a year. By then the city's historic district legislation should be in place, and would give the council a basis onwhich to make a ruling, Beyard said.

"We're just saying . . . 'Weneed some breathing room,' " Beyard said Friday.

The two-story stone building is among dozens in downtown Westminster listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Joe Getty, director of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Unlike a fine period home, the building's historic appeal is more its function than its aesthetics, Getty said. The structure is noteworthy because it is an example ofindustrial architecture.

"It's a very popular area of architectural study that looks at buildings and equipment relative to the American Industrial Revolution," said Getty. "In viewing the (building) as historically significant, I would be looking at it in the historical context of industrial development of Westminster."

The building was initially used by the B. F. Shriver Canning Co., until it was sold to Farmer's Supply in 1917. For 54 years, it was home to B's Coffee Shoppe and Dining Room, which closed in March 1991.

Shaffer said the company knows the building's background and would prefer to see it preserved.

"We would love to sell it to somebody, a guardian angel, a white knight, someone who would ride in and purchase the propertyand preserve it," he said.

Yet the company's concern is rooted ineconomic realities.

Farmer's Supply wants to sell the one-acre site for development. The site has been on the market for two years, with an asking price of $675,000. But the property's marketability suffers without a demolition permit, he said.

"I'm sensitive to the need for history and to the contribution that a historical structure makes to the growth and good of the community, and Farmer's Supply shares those values," he said. "But we have a duty to shareholders and the company to sell this property for the fair market value."

A one-year wait for a council decision would mean "further hindrance in marketing the property," Shaffer said.

The city and the county government share administration of demolition permits, Beyard said. An application is filed with the county Bureau of Permits and Inspections, but must be reviewed by the City Council.

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