Weinstein amends proposal that would have made it easier to demolish historic Ellicott City buildings

Councilman Jon Weinstein will amend his proposal that would have required the county’s Historic Preservation Commission to approve projects that will provide protection against “threats to public safety.”

The proposal was denounced by preservationists groups that feared it would strip the commission of its independence and quickly advance the timeline of a plan to demolish buildings in historic Ellicott City to mitigate flooding.

The commission on Friday sent the council a letter imploring them to strike the mandate and instead recommended a clause for consideration.

“The commission already regularly considers public safety in deciding applications,” the letter, submitted by Allan Shad, the chairman of the commission, said. “Retaining the Commission’s discretion in this way is necessary.”

“[The wording] was the main and largest concern” the commission has, said Shad in his testimony on behalf of the commission. The letter also expressed concern that future applications could “begin to make public safety claims when they wish to perform work that is not in accord with” the law.

Weinstein, who in August introduced a five-year plan that would tear down some historic properties, said during the Tuesday hearing said he would remove the approval requirement and instead add a consideration clause.

“This feels like government in reverse,” said Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit that opposes the plan, after hearing the amendment would be changed.“We are pleased to hear about the potential amendment. But we feel that all of this could have been avoided and is indicative of rushed legislation.”

The bill was opposed by the nonprofit and Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions which last week submitted a letter that requested the council to consider the “ramifications” of the proposed bill.

It could limit the commission’s “role and lead to undesired outcomes, such as demolition of buildings beyond and including those impacted within the plan put forward by the County Council, rather than finding ways to reduce risk while maintaining historical properties,” the letter said.

The Ellicott City Partnership, a historic preservation group that supports the county’s five-year flood mitigation plan, declined to take a stance on the bill, as it would pertain to a number of historic districts in the county. The group typically only speaks on proposals that affect historic Ellicott City.

The soon-to-be amended bill was criticized during the hearing because it did not adequately define public safety. The onus of proving public safety would be on the presenter, said Weinstein. It would be up to the commission to determine if the reasoning articulated is truly a public safety issue.

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