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Disputed windows praised, panned

January 13, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The energy-efficient windows that a developer installed in the facade of the former Walker House in downtown Hagerstown drew praise and criticism during a City Council work session Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said The Bowman Development Group was aware of the procedures it needed to follow and should have obeyed the rules like everyone else before the modern, aluminum-clad windows were installed in the Walker House at 34-36 S. Potomac St.

She suggested that Bowman Development was receiving special treatment.

"Why would we deviate with (the guidelines) we have in place?" Nigh said. "I think they have been very effective."

Nigh was referring to the guidelines the city's Historic District Commission follows when it approves replacement windows for buildings in historic sections of the city.

About five years ago, Bowman Development installed 10 aluminum-clad, energy-efficient windows in the facade of the Walker House, which was built around 1865, without the Historic District Commission's approval.

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Because the windows were not wooden, the commission said they failed to maintain the historic integrity of the building.

Representatives from Bowman Development said recently, however, that they included the windows in an original site plan and, because the company didn't hear any opposition from the commission, went ahead and installed them.

Bowman Development appealed the commission's decision twice and was denied.

Some city officials said during Tuesday's work session that although the commission does a good job, its authority might have to be examined.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean said she was concerned that the commission's decisions could be deterring development downtown.

"If it's becoming a barrier to development downtown, then it is becoming a problem," she said. "I don't want to be the one keeping developers from downtown."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he couldn't recall anyone complaining about the Historic District Commission's decisions in the past. It wasn't until long after Bowman Development installed the windows, he said, and the issue hit the newspaper that the controversy began.

Metzner said he didn't have a solution that would appease developers and the commission, but the only recourse was to create a standard that would make both parties happy.

Before the discussion began, City Planning Director Kathleen Maher briefed the council about the Historic District Commission's mission.

Maher said the primary duty of the commission is to review applications from people who want to alter the exterior of historic buildings. The City Council, she said, does not have the authority to override the commission's decisions.

Maher said the commission has reviewed 463 applications in the past five years and denied only 23, or about 5 percent.

"This is not a commission that is denying things willy-nilly," Maher said.

Five members of the Historic District Commission sat silently in the audience. Also in attendance was Matthew C. Donegan, manager of new business development for Bowman Development.

The council agreed to discuss the issue further during a future work session.

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