Baltimore County Council enacted a measure last night that officials hope will clear the way to convert the former Catonsville Middle School into a $6.3 million recreation center, eliminating the right to appeal changes proposed for county-owned historic properties to the Board of Appeals.
The County Council passed an ordinance, 4 to 3, that supporters say ensures a community center for Catonsville and clarifies county codes regarding appeals of projects on historic county properties.
"It's just clarifying what's already in the law," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat who has been involved in the project for years. But Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican, said he opposed the measure because it was rushed into law during the Christmas holidays and that the issue of historic preservation deserves a more comprehensive review.
"With the holiday season, it was just a difficult time for dealing with something like this," said Skinner.
Other opponents said the law is an attempt by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger to stifle opposition to the Catonsville project and to any plans for the county's 23 other properties listed on the Landmark Preservation Commission's historic register.
They include the old Court House in Towson, the Baltimore County Jail and the Dundalk Company Building.
"There's no valid reason for treating historic structures differently based on ownership, based on whether the county owns the structure or not," said J. Carroll Holzer, a lawyer for the group fighting the Bloomsbury project.
Holzer said the group will continue to fight the Catonsville project at hearings before the county Board of Appeals scheduled for Jan. 14 and 15. But the measure passed last night means the appeals board could refuse to hear the group's case, he said.
"I'm sure the county will now argue that the board has no jurisdiction to hear our appeal," said Holzer, "and the county will just drag this out to where the community doesn't have the resources to keep fighting the project."
The Catonsville project means demolition of two wings that were added to the old Catonsville Middle School on Bloomsbury Avenue in 1928.
Supporters say $4.2 million of the project will pay for preservation and renovation of the original school, erected as a high school in 1925 and later used as a junior high and middle school. It has been vacant for eight years and has been a litter-infested attraction for vandals, who have smashed nearly all of the glass in the building.
The measure has generated proposals from two council members regarding historic preservation.
Skinner said he plans to introduce a resolution in the next few months calling for a committee to be set up to study the issue of historic preservation.
Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, elected last night to a one-year term as head of the council, also introduced legislation to beef up protection for historic properties.
Kamenetz said his bill would prohibit properties from being torn down while they are being considered for listing on the county's historic register. It also would codify the County Council's authority to reinstate properties to the historic register that had been stricken from it by the county executive.
Pub Date: 1/05/99