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County may toughen historic building rules

March 28, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners may toughen the punishment for anyone violating county procedures intended to preserve historic structures.

The present fine is $250 for each day between when a structure is demolished and a permit is obtained.

That possibility arose out of a discussion Tuesday about the county's current policies to prevent historic buildings from being demolished.

The 80-minute discussion was prompted by some residents' concerns that the county isn't doing enough, Senior Planner Stephen Goodrich said.

The county checks a list of historic structures when demolition permits are filed and, under a 1989 policy, sends the request to the Washington County Historic District Commission for review and comment, he said.

The list used for the check, however, does not include every historic property in the county, Goodrich said.

The commission does not have the power to block a demolition, he said.

A listing in the National Register of Historic Places does not mean a property owner can't demolish a structure, he said.

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On March 2, 1999, a 1770s-era log house at 19933 Mount Aetna Road was leveled by developers after the county issued a verbal permit without doing a computer check to find out if it was historically significant.

That demolition was alluded to but not mentioned by name on Tuesday.

"The procedures are worthless if they are not followed," said preservationist Yvonne Hope.

In Washington County, historic structures are seen as an impediment, not an opportunity, said preservationist Pat Schooley.

"That is what we have to change - it's a mindset," she said. "We don't need the big stick so much as we need persuasion as education."

Schooley, who helped type in the list of historic structures to which the county refers, said the rules need teeth.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county would consider increasing the penalties for anyone destroying structures without the proper permit.

Under the existing policy, a demolition permit can be obtained after the demolition has taken place, Permits and Inspections Director Paul Prodonovich said.

"I agree with you, Pat. We need to tighten it up," Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said.

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