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Proposed Westminster historic district gathers momentum at hearing


If historic district zoning comes to Westminster, Charlie and Bonnie Becker worried aloud, will they be able to put up a new sign at their Sunoco service station on East Main Street?

But despite such concerns, the creation of a historic district won overwhelming support at a City Council hearing Monday night.

Thirteen of 18 speakers favored adoption of the district, which is intended to preserve old buildings by restricting demolition or exterior alterations.

Opponents generally said that they are not opposed to the idea of the district, but they worry that restrictions will hinder renovations.

Mr. and Mrs. Becker said they are concerned that historic district zoning may not allow such changes as new signs for their business.

"How is this [Historic District] Commission going to look at a sign that is very modern?" Mrs. Becker asked.

Design guidelines for the half-a-square-mile downtown area included in the proposed district would allow painting and routine maintenance without Historic District Commission approval.

But plans for new doors, windows, roofs, landscaping or fencing would require such approval.

The proposal's supporters contended that if Westminster doesn't act now to preserve old buildings, many will be torn down.

"Each of us, as property owners, has to give up a little," said attorney Charles O. Fisher Jr., who lives and works in the proposed district. "But what we're giving up is not that much."

He said the problem stems from "outsiders," such as Pennsylvania-based Sheetz Inc., which placed a convenience store at Washington Road and Main Street, "destroying the character of the community."

Others argued for a historic district to preserve old buildings from retail competitors along Route 140, such as the Wal-Mart now under construction.

Union National Bank President Joseph H. Beaver opposed the historic district, saying that if his bank is to remain in downtown Westminster, it may have to tear down buildings to expand.

Architect Dean Camlin, who chaired the commission that drafted the guidelines, expressed sadness for the loss of old buildings such as the former St. John's Catholic Church and school on Main Street, which now is the site of the Carroll County Public Library.

The church and school were demolished nine years after the church building was declared unsafe in 1968.

G. Bernard Callan Jr., a Frederick businessman who led that city's successful downtown historic preservation, said the arrival businesses such as Wal-Mart can severely damage downtown retail areas.

The advantage of a historic district is that residents make the decisions about the appearance of their town, he said.

The council did not schedule a vote on the historic district ordinance.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said the hearing record will remain open for 10 days for written comments.

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