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Sharpsburg to fight Antietam gift shop

September 14, 2000

Sharpsburg to fight Antietam gift shop



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photogrpaher

Newcomer farmhouseSHARPSBURG - Almost a year after an Anne Arundel County, Md., man got zoning approval to open a Civil War museum and gift shop in a historic home on Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg officials are trying to prevent the arrangement.

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"We just don't want him to have a commercial business there because it sets a precedent," said Sharpsburg Councilwoman Denise Troxell.

Troxell said people will want to stop at the museum to see Civil War uniforms and other artifacts, creating constant traffic on Md. 34.

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"Right now people come through and they can feel the peace of the place and feel the beauty," she said. "I want them to keep it pure. It's a memorial and it's the wrong place to be selling anything," Troxell said.

Town officials felt the issue was important enough to reschedule next month's regular Mayor and Town Council meeting for Oct. 9 so they could attend the Oct. 2 meeting of the Washington County Planning Commission.

The agenda for the Planning Commission meeting hasn't been set, so it's unknown whether the project will even be discussed that night.

If it is on the agenda, the Planning Commission could decide at that meeting whether to approve the project's site plan, which includes a seven-space parking lot, Senior Planner Stephen Goodrich said.

Goodrich said the use of the house for a gift shop had been settled by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Save Historic Antietam Foundation also is opposed to the gift shop because its members don't want a commercial development on the battlefield.

"It's awful. I think commercial enterprises don't belong in historic houses on battlefields," said SHAF President Tom Clemens.

The 18422 Shepherdstown Pike home is on property known as the Newcomer Farm, which is within the legislative boundaries of Antietam National Battlefield, but isn't on the core of the battlefield, said Battlefield Superintendent John Howard.

Troxell, Clemens and town officials are displeased that they weren't notified of the zoning meeting that was held on Sept. 15, 1999, saying they would have attended to oppose the application for a special exception. With no opposition at the meeting, the board granted the exception in an area zoned for agricultural use.

"Nobody knew anything about it until it was a done deal," Clemens said.

Civil War enthusiast William F. Chaney, who lives in Lothian, Md., applied for the special exception so he could open the gift shop in the historic pre-Civil War home he is having restored to look as it did in September 1862.

Chaney said the gift shop will help him fund the more than $200,000 restoration of the house, which was falling apart.

"I consider it preservation myself," said Chaney, who bought the property in February 1999.

Chaney said Sharpsburg officials are entitled to their opinion, but the use has been approved.

Chaney said he has never talked to the Town Council nor has he ever gotten a call or a letter from the council.

"I didn't see anybody step up to the plate to fix the house. They didn't seem to mind the house sitting there with abandoned cars around it. It was horrible," he said.

Troxell said she is frustrated because town and SHAF officials have battled for more than a decade to keep commercialism off of and away from the battlefield and yet this project may change that.

Confusing the issue has been miscommunications about Howard's thoughts on the project.

Town officials were under the impression Howard opposed the gift shop, but Howard said this week the project is "acceptable" and "perfectly legal."

Howard, too, said he was not notified of the zoning meeting last year and would have attended. He said he would have informed town officials about the meeting.

The county may have mailed the letter, but he never got it, said Howard in a telephone interview from St. Louis where he is attending meetings.

Paul Prodonovich, director of the Washington County Department of Permits and Inspections, said a notification letter was sent to the National Park Service and to neighbors.

The letters are a courtesy, not a requirement, Prodonovich said.

The meeting also was advertised twice in both The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail, and a sign was posted on the property.

"We should have read the paper, but we didn't," Troxell said.

Prodonovich and County Planner Bob Arch knew this would be a controversial project and should have notified town officials, Troxell said.

"They're allowed to have their opinion," Arch said.

Since last fall the town has been notified of upcoming special exception hearings, Arch said.

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