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Officials challenge board's OK for demolition of historic house


County officials are challenging a Board of Appeals ruling giving the go-ahead for the demolition of a historic house in Brooklyn Park because they feel the board never should have heard the case.

Robert M. Pollock, senior assistant county attorney, said he has asked the Circuit Court to review the board's April 7 ruling.

Thomas A. Pavlinic, attorney for the owner of the historic Ballman-Gischel House, said he will ask the court to strike down a county law that permits the razing of historic buildings only if they are about to collapse. Mr. Pavlinic said the owner is not a "philanthropic institution" obligated to renovate a building for the public's benefit.

The Ballman-Gischel House, on 10 acres between Ballman Avenue and Patrick Henry Drive, was built about 1870. The county put it on the Maryland list of historic places in 1985 without the owner's knowledge.

Mr. Pavlinic said the county should not designate homes historic without the owner's knowledge and consent. The Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties was not compiled to carry the kind of homeowner responsibilities required by a historic district designation, and the county is trying to bend the designation for its own purposes, he said.

Mr. Pollock has said the county believes it can incorporate various state designations into its laws and that it need not inform individual property owners.

Last summer, owner Georgia O. Clift, a fourth-generation descendant of original owner Henry Ballman, tried to get a permit to raze the dilapidated house and outbuildings. The house has been boarded up, vacant and vandalized for 10 years.

In a Sept. 1 letter to Mr. Pavlinic, Robert Dvorak, then chief of planning and code enforcement, said he would not issue a demolition permit because the house was considered significant.

The Board of Appeals ruled 4-3 against Mr. Dvorak, saying the house was "so decaying that the cost to rehabilitate it would be prohibitive. It strikes this board that while it would be a shame to demolish this dwelling, it would be point less to attempt to do anything else."

Technical experts from the county Office of Planning and Code Enforcement found the building structurally sound but in need of at least $50,000 to $100,000 in repairs.

A minority opinion issued by the board argued for preserving the home and said other parts of the site could be developed. The property is zoned for five houses per acre.

"This dwelling may not be a diamond, but it is a pearl. The problem with allowing the demolition of historic buildings is that once they are gone, they are gone forever," the minority wrote.

Four years ago, Mrs. Clift tried to have her property rezoned to permit townhouses. Neighbors objected, and in 1993, the Court of Special Appeals upheld Anne Arundel County's refusal to rezone the land.

Mr. Pavlinic had planned to buy the property to build 94 homes, including 86 townhouses, if he could get the necessary zoning. No formal subdivision plan was filed with the county. The county and the Arundel Improvement Association have rejected offers to buy the property, Mr. Pavlinic said.

Donna M. Ware, the county's architectural historian, testified at the Board of Appeals hearing that as many as 30 historic houses have been torn down in the county since the mid-1980s. Loans and grants might have been available to help repair the Ballman property.

Mr. Pavlinic said the burden of preserving an older property should not fall on the homeowner. If the county wants the structures preserved, it "should focus on a few older places and getting money to fix them up," he said.

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