The point of preservation

Towson, MD-7/13/16- Exterior of the Bel-Loc Diner with its original neon sign above the zig-zag overhanging roof, sometimes called a folded plate design. Bill Doxanas owner of the Bel-Loc Diner, is getting ready to retire. When he does, the diner, which opened in 1964, is slated to be torn down for a Starbucks store.  Amy Davis Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer - #58881

Thanks to the recent press coverage in The Baltimore Sun and elsewhere, the issue of the Bel-Loc Diner has raised some important issues regarding historic preservation ("Preservation group launches petition to reuse, rather than demolish, Bel-Loc Diner," June 27). Indeed, over the last few weeks, social media has been actively debating the merits of historic preservation, adaptive reuse and even the merits of planning, zoning and development.

One of the most contentious issues regarding the entire concept of historic preservation is the idea that those who wish to see something of architectural or cultural value saved or adapted to another use are attempting to somehow steal the property rights of the owner. This idea cannot be farther from the truth. Development of real estate must balance public need with private rights. Hence, we have offices of planning and zoning, and we have public commentary to try and achieve this balance. Historic preservation and its legal framework seek to assist property owners in keeping something that is inherently valuable as a viable property for generations to come. It has been said recently that societies are judged not by what we build but what we choose not to destroy. With the Bel-Loc, we have the opportunity to make something that is old, new again and keep its best attributes for the next generations to enjoy.


The second major point is that preservation somehow means to freeze a place in a moment in time and make it into a museum. The concept of "adaptive reuse" is one of the most dynamic methods of historic preservation. Adaptive reuse centers around the idea that a place cannot and should not be static but can be adapted to serve a modern usage. The Union Mill development in Mt. Washington is a perfect example of this idea — a 19th century textile mill that is now upscale housing. This redevelopment took creativity and effort, but there are few who could argue with its success. The Bel Loc can and should be adapted to serve the next generation.

The final major point that is worth mentioning is the misconception that only national history matters. The history of our community, our state and our region pre-date that of the nation and are no less significant than anything that may exist on a national level. If we fail to keep the things that define us as a community, then who will we become? The Bel-Loc is a place that is unique to its time and its community. It represents both national and local history with its classic Googie style architecture and mid-century modern furnishings. Its very name is synonymous with the development of the Loch Raven area and the adjacent Beltway.


Last year a study was released that showed that here in Maryland for every single dollar of tax relief granted to historic redevelopment, $8 of revenue was generated. Indeed, the study also showed that since the creation of Maryland's Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, $3 billion of economic activity has been directly linked to the program. Historic preservation makes good economic sense and helps us as a community to keep our sense of selves. Historic preservation is an undeniable win-win for business and the community.

Starbucks and Baltimore County have the opportunity to create a world class model of economic development and preservation. It is our hope that private industry and government make the right choice. Slash and burn developers turn a quick profit and leave acres of pavement and sameness in their wake. Baltimore County deserves better. Our history and our places deserve a future.

The Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County is an independent, non-profit, grass roots organization dedicated to preserving the history, culture and spirit of Baltimore County by protecting its historic and significant buildings and structures. It is the only countywide organization supporting and assisting communities and organization in historic preservation. You can contact them directly at: or visit their website:

Timothy Bishop and Bryan Fischer

The writers are, respectively, the chairman of the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County and the group's County Council District 5 director.