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Developer says he'd rather save Ellicott City building than have county acquire it

A property owner whose building sits at the bottom of Main Street in historic Ellicott City says he wants to rebuild his structure instead of allowing Howard County to acquire it.

Don Reuwer, a developer who, with Joe Rutter, co-owns the building where Tea on the Tiber once operated, said he’d rather save the building “and see the money [slated for acquisition] go to fix the sidewalks” along Main Street.

Last week Howard Executive Calvin Ball directed county officials to resume acquisition talks with property owners in the historic district. The acquisitions had been discussed as part of a larger plan to mitigate flooding in the old mill town, which since 2016 has seen two deadly floods. A $50 million, five-year plan advocated by former Republican Howard Executive Allan Kittleman would have included construction of flood mitigation features and razing 13 buildings.

Ball has said he wants to keep upstream infrastructure projects on track, but wants to review the other aspects of the plan. Nevertheless, a spokesman said last week that Ball wanted his staff to “continue good faith negotiations with property owners,” believing it would be “unjust to leave property owners in the lurch.”

Reuwer praised the county for moving forward with acquisition talks because “a lot of people in dire strains, and moving forward is a comforting thing to them,” he said.

Still, he believes he can save Tea on the Tiber building, which was built in 1890 and has withstood storms including Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and the 2016 and 2018 floods.

“We think it can fairly well flood-proof [the building],” Reuwer said. “It’s one of the more significant buildings. We want to see it stay.”

The building’s first floor took on at least 6 feet of water during the May 2018 flood, Reuwer said. Damage from both the 2016 and 2018 floods was “mostly cosmetic” and cost $160,000 for repairs, he said.

Reuwer said he wants to retain the structure and remove the deck located over the channel. Linda Jones, owner of Tea on the Tiber, said in an interview she wants to build a cobblestone courtyard in the alley next to the shop.

Reuwer said he would also be in favor of moving the building “stone by stone” instead of razing it.

He said he has asked the county to consider his reconstruction as opposed to acquisition, but also said that if keeping the building conflicts with the overall vision for the district, he would let the county acquire it.

The proposal to raze the buildings on lower Main Street drew criticism from Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit that said the loss would tarnish this historic aurora of the town and might lead to its removal from the National Register of Historic Places.

Tea on the Tiber has been considered an historically intact building” in the district, Shawn Gladden, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, said in August.

Reuwer declined to say exactly how much the county has offered for acquisition. The county also has not publicly discussed offers for individual buildings. Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Ball, in an email declined to say which properties the county is in the process of acquiring as “negotiations with properties are ongoing.

“When fully completed and executed, we will release the properties involved and amount of payments,” he stated.

The Kittleman administration had said it would base offers on 2017 mass appraisals given by the state. The Tea on the Tiber property was in 2017 valued at $60,167, according to online state records.

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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