County considers historic preservation in Winters Lane

Preserve history or update housing?

Finding a balance between preserving history and updating aging residences in the Winters Lane community of Catonsville took center stage at a community meeting Tuesday night at the Banneker Community Center.

The meeting, hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Catonsville neighborhood community group, was part of a revitalization effort underway in the historic African-American community, located between Frederick Road and Baltimore National Pike.

"There is a lot that can be done and we want to work with you to help drive the process," said Liz Glenn, deputy director of neighborhood improvement for the Baltimore County Department of Planning, who met with residents to discuss county efforts in the community. "We can only assist those properties that are willing to be assisted."

The rehabilitation of a property at 52 Winters Lane by the county has already begun, said Donnell Ziegler, a Baltimore County planner.

The county has invested more than $10,000 in the residence and expects it will soon be a success story, Ziegler said

County officials pointed to successful efforts in East Towson, another historic African-American community, where the county has rehabilitated approximately 15 residences between 2002 and 2012.

Glenn said she doesn't expect the revitalization process to happen overnight. "What we learned from East Towson is that you've got to be willing to spend 10 years to see results," Glenn said.

"These homes need to come up to modern day standards," said Sherylon Brathwaite, who lives on Shipley Avenue in the Winters Lane community.

Brathwaite, a proponent of the revitalization efforts, said while he understands the importance of preserving historic properties, "sometimes you have to tear down and rebuild."

Many homeowners are concerned about declining property values in their community due to vacant and dilapidated homes, Brathwaite said.

"Change to me doesn't mean going back to the way it was," Brathwaite said. "It means moving forward."

But African-American historian Louis Diggs, who lived in the Winters Lane community for 55 years, disagreed.

He suggested those with properties in the community's historic district get a historic designation for structures in need of costly repairs.

"Any structure in that community, once it is designated historic, is eligible for all kinds of grants," said Diggs, a member of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The group of 15 people in the room agreed that rehabilitation is necessary to improve property values in the community.

"We need to rehabilitate, whether it's historic or not," said Ziegler, who led the county's presentation.

Glenn said she believes the county's role will be in preserving the historical value of the community, while helping homeowners increase property values.

"We want to be circumspect and strategic when determining which homes are worth restoring," Glenn said. "Everything has to be done on a case-by-case basis...We want to do what the community wants to do."

Moving forward, Glenn asked attendees for their help in improving the neighborhood.

Two work groups were created at the meeting: one to organize a housing resource day for the community that will be held in the spring and one to assess properties in the community.

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