Owings Mills office tower is cleared to proceed Project's building permit was suspended last month


A month after their building permit was suspended, the developers of an office tower at the former site of the Samuel Owings House in Owings Mills have been given approval to proceed with the project.

The building permit for the $20 million office building was suspended in August after a project engineer deleted language pertaining to historic preservation from the project's formal plans, said Arnold Jablon, Baltimore County's director of permits and development management.

Last week, county officials approved a "refinement" to allow the language to be deleted from the project's official plat. That cleared the way for the permit suspension to be lifted, Jablon said.

But historic preservationists, still smarting from the bulldozing of the 18th-century house, complain that county officials should do more to require developer Howard Brown to keep his promise to rebuild the Samuel Owings House, one of the county's oldest.

Ruth B. Mascari, chairwoman of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the commission should play a role in the reconstruction of the house -- a suggestion Brown has rejected.

She said Brown should not have been allowed to have the plat changed and mocked the $40 fee county authorities charged to do so.

"It was the right thing to do to leave [the language] on the plan -- the technically right thing, the legally right thing and the morally right thing," she said. "It is my opinion that this house was bought for 40 pieces of silver."

The house, built in 1767 by the mill owner for whom Owings Mills is named, was bulldozed in February. A key moment in the controversy over its fate came when County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger did not forward to the County Council the landmark commission's recommendation that the house be designated a historic landmark.

Instead, Ruppersberger shook hands with Brown on an agreement calling for the developer to build an office tower at the site and rebuild the Owings house elsewhere.

Brown said that after the house was razed, bricks from its older, historic section were placed in storage. His lawyer, Julius W. Lichter, said county officials have suggested two sites in the Owings Mills area. Lichter said the sites are being evaluated.

The proposal for a nine-story office tower was submitted for county approval last year. As the project moved through the approval process, the plan carried a note saying the house was on the preliminary landmarks list.

That meant that no building permit could be issued until the developer submitted a plan to preserve the house, as required under the county code. But the house never was added to the final landmarks list.

After the house did not make that list, Jablon said he asked the county's Development Review Committee, a panel with representatives from various county departments, to decide whether deleting the note was a "material" change requiring a full-scale review. The committee approved the change as a minor refinement, he said.

Jablon said that even if the deletion had not been approved, the note probably would not have held up the permit because it was written to address the possibility of the house being added to the final landmark list.

"My opinion is that that thing had no teeth whatsoever," he said. "If the note had said, 'No building permit until a plan is presented showing how the house is to be rebuilt' -- hey, that is clear and definitive and that would have had teeth."

Lichter said work on the office tower's foundation, which was approved under a separate permit, was not interrupted by the suspension of the building permit.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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