Baltimore County historical preservationists are accusing County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley of avoiding county law by omitting a stately Catonsville mansion known as the A.D. Anderson house from a landmarks preservation bill.
The move, which one preservationist called "unconscionable," could give the go-ahead for Cathy Hughes -- owner of the media empire Radio One Inc. -- to demolish the nearly century-old house she purchased in August for $500,000.
This week, David Goldsmith, the commission's vice chairman, called the omission "a disaster. It's a terrible precedent to set for preservation in Baltimore County" and a violation of county law.
But Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, says it is his prerogative to leave the mansion and another property in his district -- the Galloway-Dickey house -- off the bill, which contained eight other buildings. The council is scheduled to vote March 19.
Moxley said the commission's recommendation on the Anderson mansion "infringes on the rights of the property owner."
Hughes has said she wants the right to demolish the 22-room, early 20th-century shingle house on Rolling Road in case she decides not to restore it. Her assistant and lawyer did not respond to calls for a comment this week.
A third property -- the Academy Hall -- on the county's east side was left off the bill by council member John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat.
The dispute centers on a section of the county code that requires the County Council to accept the Landmarks Preservation Commission's list of prospective historic buildings for final vote.
"Everything on the preliminary list has to be on the bill, and they have to vote for or against each of the items," said Judith Kremen, executive director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, a nonprofit group.
The chairman and vice chairman of the county's preservation commission said this week they can't recall the council ever omitting any of its recommendations from the final bill.
"I find it shocking the council does not have the opportunity to vote," said commission Chairman Robert Scott. "This is very unusual. It's unconscionable. I assure you these properties are historic."
In October, the commission spent an unusual amount of time considering the A.D. Anderson house after a contentious public debate. During the hearing, Hughes accused her new next-door neighbor -- who grew up in the house -- of racism because she said the neighbor nominated it for historic protection only after Hughes purchased it in August.
Hughes complained that the house was nominated for the landmarks list without her knowledge and later offered to sell it to the next-door neighbor, Patricia Moss, who grew up in the mansion but had moved out years ago.
Goldsmith said the commission voted unanimously in favor of preservation after members visited the Anderson house after the hearing.
They deemed the mansion historically significant, based on two of five possible criteria required by law: they found it "an object of singular natural beauty" and "a distinctive example of a particular architectural style or period."
"They're dismissing us," said Goldsmith of the council.
Moss, the daughter of the late auto dealer A.D. Anderson, called Moxley's omission of the house from the bill "poor politics."
"At least it should have gone through the total process. There's a winner and a loser and I accept that. But I have a hard time understanding this," she said.
The two other buildings recommended for protection but left off the bill are the Galloway-Dickey house, at 5153 Baltimore National Pike, also in Moxley's district, and the Academy Hall, a 1912 building at 1527 Old Eastern Ave., in Olszewski's district.
Calling Academy Hall "a rundown building of bricks" without historical significance, Olszewski said yesterday that he felt obliged to keep it off the bill at the owner's request. When asked what criteria the landmarks commission sent to the council for Academy Hall, he said, "I can't remember off the top of my head."
According to the commission, Academy Hall was found to be historically significant because of its previous use for social and political events and because of its distinctive architectural style with its gable-roof from the late Victorian era.
The Galloway-Dickey house was deemed historic for its architecture, its notable artistic merit and its previous use by two prominent Baltimore families, according to commission records.
This week, Moxley downplayed the commission's recommendations for both the Anderson and Galloway-Dickey houses.
"I got lots of letters, primarily stating they were nice houses with great memories," said Moxley. "I don't think that is significant enough for me to place [them] on the list when you're looking at the property rights of individuals."
Moxley and Olszewski said they discussed with other council members leaving the three buildings off the final bill and received no objections. Moxley suggested that if other council members want to include the omitted buildings on the list, they can amend the bill.
But one councilman, Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said it is "very unlikely" that a councilman would amend a bill that affects another councilman's district.
Alonza Williams, a spokesman for County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said the omitted properties were "a council decision, and, as a courtesy, we went along with them."