Martinsburg's historic review board being bypassed

July 07, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Replacing two doors with one in downtown Martinsburg is no small matter for the city's Historic Preservation Review Commission.

Just ask Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, who owns Patterson's Drug Store Inc. at 134 S. Queen St.

Karos' door project at his business recently joined a list of 20 other property changes that were started, if not completed, in the last 18 months before belatedly coming before the Review Commission for a "certificate of appropriateness," according to City Planning Department records.

"Ignorance is not an excuse," Karos said of the oversight that came about after he retained a contractor for the door replacement. "I can understand how they feel."

The mayor's belated application is on the Review Commission's agenda for the panel's July meeting today at 7 p.m.

"I complied with everything they wanted me to do after the fact," Karos said.

Karos said recently he would talk with the planning department about what appeared to him to be an "in-house" problem regarding enforcement of the rules for the city's historic preservation district.


Review commission chairman Don Wood last week he was surprised at the number of property owners who failed to comply with Article X of the city's zoning ordinance.

Most of the individuals who failed to apply to the review commission since January 2007 involved the placement of business signs and included the Democratic Party headquarters' banner sign earlier this year, according to city records. Other cases included painting, window replacement, awning installation and enclosure of a porch.

"It's too bad that people don't pay attention to it," Wood said. "My personal opinion is that there should be fines for people" who fail to follow the guidelines.

"People know we don't live back in the caveman days," Wood said. "You need to check with city officials (about what requires a certificate)."

All proposed exterior changes to property in the historic preservation district that are within public view - including gates, fences, windows and doors - need to be reviewed by the review commission, Wood said.

"The object is to save your history and keep your town's (historic character)," Wood added.

The historic preservation district includes several downtown blocks of King, Queen, John, Burke, Martin, Spring, Water, Race, College and Commerce streets, and Maple Avenue.

Wood said an effort to expand the city's historic preservation district has stalled, but separately noted that the county's Historic Landmarks Commission was exploring the possibility of establishing a volunteer-driven review commission for protecting historic properties in the county.

In addition to the historic preservation district overlay recognized by the city, Martinsburg has 10 historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. Another is being considered for approval, Wood said.

Including the city's historic districts and individually listed properties, there are 125 "resources" in Berkeley County on the National Register, according to the National Park Service's Web-based National Register Information System.

On the Web

More information about the National Register of Historic Places is available on the Internet at

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