Hamlets 1, County 1: Local Landmarking

In January I wrote about the difficulties of local designation in the aftermath of chairing my final Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission hearing. Last week the newly constituted HPC continued the worksession begun in January and concluded that the two proposed historic districts did not meet the County criteria for designation. The hearing and HPC’s decision was reported in this morning’s Montgomery Gazette: Claggettsville Out of Running for Historic Designation. Last week’s worksession stretched well into the night and was stopped before the HPC was able to complete its consideration of all of the properties proposed for designation; the worksession continues next week (10 March 2010).

Clagettsville Determination of Eligibility Form

Although the Gazette reporter touched on many of the key issues, she failed to broach some of the more difficult problems facing the HPC: incomplete research and the troubling failure by County historic preservation staff to disclose the fact that one of the historic districts, Clagettsville, had been evaluated by the State Historic Preservation Office in 1991 and found to not meet any of the Criteria for Designation for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the DOE form, apparently completed by then-Montgomery County Planning Department historian Mike Dwyer, “The crossroads community of Claggettsville has undergone numerous alterations and has many intrusions. It no longer conveys the sense of a 19th and early 20th century village and lacks sufficient cohesiveness to be considered a district.” The February 18, 2010 HPC staff report prepared for last week’s worksession mentions the MHT document but fails to include any of the language in the MHT document. Furthermore, contrary to my request to HPC staff that links to the MHT documents (post at the MHT/MD Archives Web site) be included with the hearing material, the staff elected to let stakeholders know that the materials are available and left it up to individuals to find the materials on their own. There are some very serious implications for the property owners in the two historic districts if they are designated locally and found by MHT to be not eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Chief among the implications are the benefits of designation touted by historic preservationists vis-à-vis state historic preservation tax credits. If a historic district is not listed in the National Register or (and this is important) is not determined eligible for listing in the National Register by the MHT, then property owners are not eligible to receive state historic preservation tax credits.

Among the continued concerns I have that remain from the January hearing and its supporting documents are the ways in which HPC staff rely on National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places guidance and standards only when it is convenient to support their positions (sometimes demonstrably incorrectly as with some of these designation documents) but when individuals attempt to bring in the NPS/NRHP literature HPC staff takes the position that the NPS/NRHP materials are informative only and that Chapter24A criteria are the only applicable standards.

Last year Councilmember Mike Knapp introduced legislation to amend the County’s historic preservation law (Chapter 24A) . I think with the Upper Patuxent Master Plan Amendment working its way towards the Planning Board and Council there is an opportunity to revisit amending Chapter 24A to open up the designation of historic districts to more property owner involvement, i.e., provisions for owner consent by establishing a percentage threshold of consenting owners within the boundaries of a proposed historic district to enable a historic district designation to move beyond the HPC.

More on this next week.