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Windows dispute clouds building project

Developer threatens to sue city

Developer threatens to sue city

December 29, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A local developer is threatening to sue the City of Hagerstown over an issue that has jeopardized the completion of a multimillion-dollar construction project in the first block of South Potomac Street.

Donald M. Bowman, a partner with The Bowman Development Group, said the problem involves energy-efficient windows that he installed at the former Walker House at 32-36 S. Potomac St. He is converting the structure, which has been standing since about 1865, into an apartment building with five to 10 units.

Bowman said the City of Hagerstown gave him permission almost five years ago to install the windows, but after his company spent nearly $44,000 to purchase them, it received word from the city's Historic District Commission that the aluminum-grilled windows didn't maintain the historic integrity of the building.

The HDC was created in 1987 by then-Mayor Steven Sager and the City Council to "protect, preserve and encourage the re-use" of historic sites.

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"It's giving us a fit," Bowman said. "We spend millions of dollars (to develop the building) and then run into something like this. It doesn't give you a warm and fuzzy feeling."

Bowman said the aluminum-grilled windows shouldn't have to be replaced with wooden ones because the modern windows are more energy-efficient and would save money in the long run.

"I guess we'll just have to sue (the city) ... We're not going to roll over," Bowman said. "We're going to fight."

When asked whether the HDC would reconsider, HDC chairman Robert W. Hershey referred questions to City Development Review Planner Stephen R. Bockmiller.

Bockmiller said Monday that the city gave the OK for Bowman to proceed with construction on the Walker House almost five years ago under the condition that any exterior work first be approved by the HDC.

Bowman said he thought he had that approval.

Bockmiller said the city knew the HDC hadn't approved the windows before construction began, but didn't think the issue was serious enough to order the work to stop.

"The windows could be fixed without jeopardizing the project," Bockmiller said.

Although the city appreciates Bowman's work on the Walker House, the issue needs to be settled, Bockmiller said.

In a letter dated Dec. 10 to Bowman, Bockmiller said the Hagerstown Planning Department "will authorize no additional permits until this issue is resolved."

Bowman said only one of the apartments is finished.

Bockmiller wrote that Bowman had the following options:

o Replace the formerly removed historic windows

o Obtain HDC approval for architecturally compatible replacement units. The design guidelines advise that replacement units should be wood and have exterior grills of the same pattern of the historic windows. There would be no objection to the use of thermopane glass.

In addition, Bockmiller wrote that Bowman could appeal the HDC's decision -- Bowman was denied twice before -- but "the circumstances of the case have not changed and, as such, you are very likely to receive another rejection of your application."

Bockmiller said the city council doesn't have the power to overturn the HDC. That can be done only if an appeal is approved in Washington County Circuit Court, he said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Monday the same windows that Bowman used at the Walker House were approved for use in Baltimore by that city's HDC.

"I don't understand the difference between Baltimore and Hagerstown," he said.

Bruchey suggested the HDC is deterring progress by making it too hard for developers to move forward.

"We are striving to complete a renaissance of downtown," Bruchey said. "(HDC has) to understand we're dealing with older buildings that cost a ton of money to revitalize ... I just don't understand the hard-nosed approach."

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