Preserving Baltimore County; Historic inventory: Proposal seems a sensible way to prevent mistakes like Owings House demolition.


THE RASH demolition of the 18th-century Georgian brick home of Samuel Owings, founder of Owings Mills, and of the 150-year-old Maryvale tenant house a few years ago was evidence of Baltimore County's disregard for historic preservation. Valuable structures were crushed, while developers and county administrators had little guidance on how to deal with older buildings.

An appointed citizens group has offered a reasonable plan to help guide such decisions. The panel was created by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose earlier indifference to historic preservation was partly to blame for the Owings House loss in 1996.

The group proposed classifying Baltimore County's older structures by their importance.

The first level would comprise structures of indisputable value that could not be razed or altered, such as Hampton Mansion in Towson, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The second level would group buildings of less significance that require review by the county's Landmarks Commission before alternations or demolition.

The third category would contain old buildings not considered historically, architecturally or culturally significant. They could be torn down or changed without approval so long as the owners recorded their existence.

Sorting the more than 3,000 county properties that the Maryland Historic Trust has inventoried over the past half-century will be formidable. A consultant has been retained to review and classify the first 500 to 1,000 buildings. The analysis could become painstaking. Baltimore County cannot, however, become bogged down in battles over minutiae. A good-faith effort not to run roughshod over important properties such as the Owings House shouldn't become a farce at the other extreme.

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