Annapolis couple loses appeal over fiberglass porch columns

An Annapolis couple has lost a bid to keep the fiberglass columns on their early-20th-century home's porch in the city's Historic District, in a case that has pitted homeowners against historical preservationists over building standards in the area.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled this week against Valerie and Bryan J. Miller, saying the Historic Preservation Commission was within in its authority to demand that the couple tear down the fiberglass columns that were installed without approval, and replace them with wood columns approved by the commission.

The couple had sued the panel in 2008.

"I haven't seen the ruling. I have no comment until I see the ruling," Valerie Miller said Wednesday.

The Historic Preservation Commission is made up of seven volunteers who must approve all construction in the district, and its rules follow the federal standards for the treatment of historic properties, which calls for the use of as much authentic material as possible.

The question of whether to allow materials that are not considered authentic has been a recurring issue before the commission, with some saying that materials such as vinyl and fiberglass dilute the Historic District's standards. Others argue that the group should allow more leeway for modern building materials that are nearly indistinguishable from historical ones.

Commission officials could not be reached Wednesday.

The conflict with the Millers goes back several years, when the couple decided to add a porch to their home, which was built in the early 1900s.

The Millers received permission from the commission to build a porch that included wood columns, but instead used fiberglass after their builder suggested it as a longer-lasting alternative. The couple later acknowledged that they erred in not seeking approval for the switch.

The commission notified the couple they were in violation and demanded that the columns be replaced with wood.

That decision was upheld by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge, and by the appellate court this week.

The Millers have maintained that the porch should have been considered "new construction," rather than a "replica," which should allow for more flexibility. The original porch had been torn down long ago.

The couple can try to continue to challenge the commission by asking the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to hear the case.

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