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HDC approves Antietam museum shop improvements

November 01, 2000

HDC approves Antietam museum shop improvements



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Despite opposition, the Washington County Historic District Commission Wednesday approved improvements to the proposed Newcomer House Civil War Museum & Museum Shop in a historic home on Antietam National Battlefield.

The project is tentatively on Monday's 7 p.m. Planning Commission meeting agenda. The commission will decide whether to approve the project's site plan.

The 18422 Shepherdstown Pike home is on property known as the Newcomer Farm, which is within the boundaries of Antietam National Battlefield.

Civil War enthusiast William Chaney, who lives in Lothian, Md., wants to open a museum shop in the historic pre-Civil War home, which he is having restored to look as it did in September 1862.

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Opponents are concerned a commercial development will set a bad precedent and create constant traffic on Md. 34.

After the meeting, Chaney said he is a historian who supports renovation. Without him the building may have fallen into further disrepair, he said. But renovation will cost $253,000 and the museum shop will help defray those costs, he said.

He disputes that people will be driving to the area just to visit his shop. His customers will be those who were coming to see Antietam, he said. When he bought the property in February 1999, he had no idea the project would be opposed.

He was surprised at protests and allegations, which he denies, that he did not put a written notice in the newspaper or put up a required sign on the property informing of the proposed changes, he said.

A September 1999 board of zoning appeals meeting was advertised twice in The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

Sid Gale, Sharpsburg mayor, and Tom Clemens, president of the Save the Historic Antietam Foundation, were the only two people who spoke against the project during the one-hour discussion Wednesday.

About 8 people attended the meeting not including commission members.

They oppose a site plan with more than two or three parking spaces and any signs, Clemens and Gale said. The proposal calls for seven parking spaces and a sign advertising the museum and museum shop.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said deed restrictions prohibit signs or commercial business and the land must be "used exclusively for agricultural or a small office in the owners home."

He suggestd a legal opinion should be obtained.

Antietam Superintendent John Howard has said he supports the present site plan and does not feel the plan violates the restrictions, said county Chief Planner Steve Goodrich.

Bruce Johnston, Hagerstown city engineer and a commission member, suggested the commission delay a vote so they can get a legal opinion from the county attorney on whether the easement restrictions should be a factor in their decision.

The planning department's opinion is that the National Park Service decides the restrictions, Goodrich replied.

The vote was 5-1 with Jane Hershey opposed because of concerns about legal issues.

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