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Council approves landmarks protocol

The Baltimore Sun

Despite concerns from historic preservationists, the Baltimore County Council approved yesterday legislation that will stop using a state list of potentially historical sites when deciding on properties that cannot be demolished.

Only properties on the county's preliminary and final landmarks list will be protected against demolition in three years, under a law passed unanimously by the council.

The measure is designed to simplify the process for preventing historic sites from being torn down. It also is expected to resolve conflicts with property owners who may be unaware that their homes are on the list of properties that may have historic value.

The state inventory, kept by the Maryland Historic Trust, was intended to be used as a list of properties that merit further study, a type of suggestion box, said Michael E. Field, a county attorney.

Instead, county officials had been using it to trigger reviews by the county's zoning commissioner and the Landmarks Preservation Committee when property owners wanted to demolish buildings, Field said.

A task force studying the county's process agreed that officials should not consider properties added to the state inventory in the future. But in an amendment to the bill, county officials recommended that they stop using the state list entirely in April 2010.

There are more than 3,000 county properties on the state inventory. Only about 350 have been put on the county's preliminary and final landmarks lists.

Patricia Bentz, executive director of the county's historical trust and a member of the task force that drew up the original bill, said she has doubts about the deadline.

"It seems unlikely that a county that on average adds 40 structures per year to its historic landmarks list can review [that many] in three years," she told council members yesterday.

To avoid overlooking any historic properties, Bentz asked the council to request a comprehensive survey to identify all potentially historic structures.

The measure passed by the council does not change the ability of a third-party to nominate a historic property for consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

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