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HDC didn't nix new windows

January 11, 2009

To the editor:

Don Bowman has done a wonderful job improving a blighted section of the downtown, and we all applaud his efforts. The Historic District Commission (HDC) has worked closely with his representatives throughout the project.

A recent headline in The Herald-Mail read "Developer: HDC giving us a fit." The article indicated that he is being treated unfairly and that the Historic District Commission has been a problem to him.

This is not so, as an examination of the public record will reveal. Bowman is simply being asked to comply with the same guidelines that apply to others.

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The article was prompted by a letter sent recently to Bowman by Steve Bockmiller, City Planner and HDC staff assistant, the result of the continued noncompliance of the front windows of the building.

The initial application for this project was heard by the HDC in February 2004. Bowman was present for the discussion, as was his architect, George Harne. No mention was made by the applicant of replacing the windows on the front of the Walker house. This is reflected in the minutes for that meeting.

Obviously, the developer has known about this issue for several years. However, he has failed to take any action to replace the windows in the interim. The HDC's staff has been politely nudging him to resolve this situation during the ongoing construction process and has shown abundant patience.

The author of the article writes that this "issue has jeopardized the completion of a multimillion-dollar construction project." How can replacing 10 windows jeo-pardize a multi-million dollar project?

The HDC has, in fact, cooperated in every phase of the project. The building, which replaced the old Town Tavern, is new construction, and the HDC had relatively limited involvement in its design. The plans submitted to it for review were approved, the commission made some suggestions, which were implemented. Bowman's construction of this building was done in accordance with approved plans.

The second building in the project, the old Tri-State building, was submitted for review involving renovations to the front facade. Again, there were no problems. The HDC reviewed and approved his plans. Bowman's work on the Tri-State building was also done with approval from the HDC.

The Walker House project involved extensive work, including demolition and reconstruction of the rear of the building. The HDC approved everything Bowman applied for. The key phrase here is "applied for." Bowman Development did not apply for approval to replace any of the existing historic wood windows in the front.

There was never application made nor approval granted for replacement of any historic windows, even though the article states "Bowman said the city gave him permission almost five years ago to install the windows."

Had the applicant applied to replace the front windows with nonwood replacements, that request would not have met the Historic District guidelines, which the HDC uses to preserve the historic character of the districts.

The mayor "suggested that the HDC is deterring progress by making it too hard for developers to move forward." His allegation that the HDC is a hindrance to downtown development is not supported by facts.

The HDC consistently works with developers and individuals to promote the development of downtown.

It conducts workshop sessions with parties planning to undertake projects in the historic districts and provides guidance and advice on an ongoing basis.

Examples include Paul Perini's exterior renovation of the old People's Drug Store building on Public Square, Mike Deming's faade restoration of the Schindle-Rohrer Building and his condominium project next to The Maryland Theatre, the Gourmet Goat renovations, Skip Tovornik's Renaissance Center project on North Prospect Street and a new condominium development in the 100 block of West Washington Street.

Each of these projects has and will increase the city's tax base. In addition, the HDC has approved a number of faade grants to spruce up the fronts of buildings with paint, signage and awnings. A quick look of the area shows the results of our cooperation.

The HDC is not unique nor are the commissioners unreasonable. All historic district commissions in the state of Maryland have guidelines. The HDC simply follows the guidelines that it is required to follow by state and local law. Unfortunately, one dissatisfied person has chosen to drag a technical review issue into the arena of public opinion.

Robert Hershey, Chair
Hagerstown Historic
District Commission

(Editor's note: Historic District Commission Chairman Robert W. Hershey was asked to comment for the story, which ran in The Herald-Mail on Dec. 30. Hershey declined to comment and referred questions to City Development Review Planner Stephen R. Bockmiller. )

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