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Effort to preserve historic home could result in its demolition

The owners of a historic home in the city of Frederick, Maryland, have filed for a permit to demolish it, but only after getting word that the city was looking for a way to preserve it. It's a rather ironic land use and zoning issue, one that reminds us of the various interests that form real estate disputes.

The property sits on farmland originally willed to the daughter of an Army captain who was a hero in the War of 1812. The daughter and her husband built the home out of common bond brick and its original features remain today. According to historical trust documents, the house's workmanship, exterior proportions, decorative treatments and window features make it not only beautiful, but structurally significant and "worthy of rating among the finest homes in the country."

Frederick officials seem to realize this, having named it as one of 25 properties the city considers historically significant. Yet the home has no official historical designations or easements to protect it. And it may already be too late to add them. Upon hearing that the city was looking for a way to permanently preserve the home, the widow of a man who grew up in the house filed for a demolition permit.

The owner's goal is not necessarily to tear down the home, but to prevent restrictions from being placed on it. The farmland surrounding the home has been for sale for several years now, and she was told that a historic overlay zone placed on the property and its accompanying restrictions could make it harder to sell.

Frederick aldermen were supposed to discuss an ordinance to delay the granting of demolition permits for historic properties on the same day the owner applied for the permit, but the discussion was postponed due to an unrelated agenda item. The ordinance would have allowed review of demolition permits for structures at least 50 years old and increased penalties for unauthorized demolition.

More often, it's the owner of a property who seeks to preserve it for historic purposes, and a municipality that wants to demolish it in order to repurpose the land. Regardless of your position or your motives, it's helpful to work with a real estate attorney who understands your intentions and can ensure they're carried out.

Source: Frederick News Post, "Property's demolition could beat ordinance," Patti S. Borda, June 8, 2012

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