Westminster council says no to historic district fee Issue will be reconsidered


The Westminster City Council agreed by consensus last night not to charge property owners to join the new historic district and resolved a local attorney's complaint that he hadn't been allowed to lobby council members after the public hearing record was closed.

The council also asked City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr. to draft a resolution that will give the planned historic district commission a role in the application process.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein tried unsuccessfully to get an immediate vote to make historic district applications free.

Current city laws require a $1,250 fee for the zoning change, a feature that three of the four council members have said they weren't aware of when they adopted the historic district zoning ordinance Oct. 12.

The issue will go to the council finance committee for a recommendation. Committee Chairman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. said he personally favored no charge, and Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan backed "a nominal fee or none at all."

Mr. Walsh pledged to change the way future comprehensive zoning changes are handled. He had barred council members from discussing the historic district with individual citizens between the closing of the public record in August and the October vote.

His promise satisfied County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr., who requested for the council to rewrite its zoning law after he was barred from speaking against the ordinance at a special session in which the council discussed the proposed zoning with Michael Day of the Maryland Historic Trust.

Mr. Thompson said he was "particularly upset" at not being allowed to debate what he saw as Mr. Day's misreading of the state law that governs formation of historic districts.

Mr. Walsh promised to advise the council in the future to separate zoning law changes under consideration from the maps that accompany them.

In the historic district, for example, the council legally could have talked to anyone about the proposed language creating the district, he said.

Mr. Walsh said city law required council members to vote on the map that defined the new district only on the basis of the public hearing record.

When the council considered the two issues together, he warned them against discussing historic zoning because, Mr. Walsh said, average citizens would not be able to separate the topics.

The council asked Mr. Walsh to draft a resolution that will route historic zoning applications through the yet-to-be-appointed historic district commission.

This would give it a role in the application process.

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