Residents oppose plans for buildings; Foes speak out during a meeting on 'farmstead' proposal; Previous concept rejected; Project would alter property's 'historic character,' man says


Michael Pfau might not get the green light he wants.

Pfau wants to build four office buildings off Fels Lane in Ellicott City, a stone's throw from historic Main Street. His architect has designed the buildings to look like an old farmstead, complete with a caretaker's home and an old barn.

But last night, Ellicott City residents came to the Howard County Historic District Commission meeting to oppose Pfau's plan, saying it would destroy the character of the historic district, a popular tourist destination.

The commission did not vote on the proposal last night, wanting to consult with legal counsel first.

The site Pfau wants to develop is zoned for offices, and the commission does not have authority to prevent building there. However, it can reject specific site plans based on architecture, landscaping and impact on the historic district.

The commission has rejected a previous Pfau plan for Fels Lane. In November 1998, it rejected his proposal to build 27 townhouses on the site.

Because the panel did not issue a written denial within 45 days, Pfau's lawyer wrote a letter saying the developer was going to build anyway. The case went to Howard County Circuit Court; the judge ruled in favor of the commission.

Pfau is trying again.

Doris Thompson, commission chairwoman, called Pfau's new plan "much better."

Richard Taylor, a commission member, commended the developer for doing a "nice job."

The staff of the Historic District Commission has recommended approval of Pfau's plan, saying it is "very well designed to give the impression of a farm complex converted to office use."

But many Ellicott City residents were not convinced. About 40 came to last night's meeting; of those, about 10 spoke against the plan.

Sally Bright, who lives near the proposed development on Church Road, said it would be absurd to have a fake farmstead where, historically, there were no farms.

Bright and many of the others also worried that the large development would dwarf a historic home that is on the property and has been converted to apartments.

Charles E. Fisher, a historic preservationist for the National Park Service in Washington, said Pfau's plan would "significantly alter if not destroy the historic character of this property."

Fisher said the proposed development "fails to meet very fundamental principles of historic preservation."

Alisa C. Walterhoefer, who lives on Park Avenue near the proposed development, said she worries about litter and doesn't want more construction in her neighborhood.

"I have traveled all over Europe and to many great historic cities in the United States as well," Walterhoefer said. "What makes a historic city beautiful is maintenance of historic architecture, cleanliness and allocated open spaces. Must we develop every inch of land we have?"

After the meeting, Pfau said he had no comment.

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