2014, June 11 | Wednesday 10:05 pm

by Peter Samuel

The vote against extending the Historic Preservation Commission’s powers to the Coca-Cola site followed the initial HPC staff (Lisa Murphy) pitch for the overlay based on the extremist total preservation doctrine under which all buildings on any site “tell a story” or provide a historical narrative” – a doctrine not to be found in the law establishing the Commission or in the historic preservation guidelines. and about three hours of questions and public comment.Before her case was voted down there were three hours of questioning and public comment.

Murphy had gone for broke to gain HPC control via the ‘preservation overlay’:

- declaring the unacceptability of the developer plan for retaining the front building only, saying the whole complex of buildings must be under HPC control (total preservation doctrine)

- all the buildings were architecturally and historically ‘significant’

- the complex of buildings was “well preserved”

- the developer had not shown that the HDC process would add to their costs

- without HPC control the City would be forced by law to grant an unconditional and unqualified ‘demolition without delay’ permit which would allow all the buildings to be razed entirely

We quote at length from several of the major speakers

Apres moi les bulldozers de demolition: M. Winnette

HPC chairman Scott Winnette had turned on the evening’s most passionate histrionics which we quote directly at some length:

“Our buildings are important. Sir Winston Churchill once said: ‘We shape our buildings, thereafter our buildings shape us.’

“ I commend to you the letter from HPC dated February 25 2014 and our recommendation for an historic preservation overlay over the former Coca Cola bottling plant at 1705 North Market St. I also commend to you the positive recommendation of the Planning Commission.

“Our buildings tell a story. They’re important. British architect Brand Shanklin said “A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent, and a city without old buildings is like a human without a memory.”

“I urge you starting tonight with this site to begin designating historic preservation overlays over the properties determined (to be) historically significant in the City’s comprehensive plan. Previous mayors and boards have studied this. The public has studied this. This is not new information.

“Tonight set a precedent articulating the importance of historic buildings outside of the historic district.

“I ask that you generously consider the public process that created the City’s comprehensive plan.  Some have said the historic district is all we need, all we need of our built history, all that is worth preserving, all we need to tell out vital story. However Frederick’s history is so much more than our downtown streets and as the City’s borders and buildings expand outward we must protect our history, even our industrial history, even our agricultural history, the ancient entryways into our cities and the history of our grandparents. The civil war is not the only important story Frederick has to tell.

The “great story” to be told by the whole Coke complex preserved

“There is a great (emphasis) story to tell about a bottling industry in this city. The Coca Cola plant has moved many times. Actually there was a restaurant in their previous location.  There is a great story to tell.

“The time has come for you our city leaders to echo the foresight, boldness and courage of your peers back in the 1950s and 60s.  They established the Fredericktown Association and the Historic Zone committee seeking to preserve Frederick’s historic buildings. On August 11th 1952 the Historic Zone Committee presented to the Mayor and Board the first bold set of boundaries that became the Fredericktown Historic District. On January 4th 1968 the Fredericktown Association with the leadership of state Senator Goodloe E Byron proposed ordinance G281 to the mayor and board who voted unanimously  to create the Frederick Historic District.

“Surely respected owners of many properties argued with their resistance. Surely some of them threatened to let their buildings fall. But look around. Those beautiful buildings stand. And the old mayor and board’s courage is celebrated in our city and in our state.

“Tonight I ask that you craft a new historic preservation overlay. Let us as a city compete with Charlottesville Virginia. We can do as well as they have. They have determined their very similar Coca Cola bottling plant worthy of full preservation, and it is now a property on the National Historic Register. Ours can be too.

“Having served on the HCP for a number of years now I dismiss any argument that historic overlay promotes rot and ruin, decay and destruction, and that historic overlays diminish business opportunity. I also know (that) our land management code requires all owners of property to maintain them, so if you here people say ‘It’s just going to fall apart if you put this overlay on there,’ I’m sure there’s some blight conversation regarding that property, that plot.

“Our historic district is absolutely thriving.

“So people who say that an overlay (means) rot and ruin are incorrect.

“It has been said that the process of the city’s preservation is a burden, but not any more a burden than any of the other permitting processes that seek to assure the public good.

“I commend to you a recent history of the HCP. In 2011 234 cases were adjudicated, and of them 226 were approved, 96.5%. In 2012 219 cases were adjudicated, and of them were 210 approved, 95.8%. In 2013 253 cases were adjudicated, and of them 245 were approved, 96.8%. We’re getting better and better. The percentages speak for themselves.

If engineer says it must come down, we go along

“It has been said that the demolition of structures is not possible within a historic preservation overlay and that is simply not true. While applications for the demolition of historic fabric are dutifully considered many have been approved. I do not recall any case in which the HPC has been presented (with) an engineer’s report proving buildings unsafe and irreparable where the HPC insisted they be retained.  We listen to the advice of the professionals.

“The HPC with the City’s expert staff Lisa Mroszczyk Murphy and Christina Martinkosky will assist any future owner in the adaptive reuse of this property, while preserving the integrity of its architecture and our vital cultural and industrial history.

“Victor Hugo said: “Whatever may be the future of architecture, in whatever manner our young architects may one day solve the question of their art, let us while waiting for new monuments preserve the ancient monuments.”

Frederick should “inspire the nation”

“Let us inspire the nation with a love for national architecture.

“The City of Frederick benefits enormously from the expertise and the hard work of its planning staff.  The City staff of the recent past and today’s historic planner Lisa Murphy also an architect recommends that the Coca Cola bottling plant site be protected in its entirety. So I ask that you respect the City’s planning staff, the HPC and the Planning Commission by not swaying to the pressure of the plan of a potential buyer no matter how well meaning or well intentioned.

“As you know properties change hands and promises of protection today may quickly turn to cries for demolition tomorrow. The best way to protect this historic property is through the legal processes you and your predecessors have practiced, to place the historic preservation overlay over this property.  If you do not there is no public means to preserve this property, and they will get their demolition permit. The public empowers you to hold to the longterm vision of our city, a vision protecting our heritage and ensuring its vibrancy, I ask that you say Yes to this preservation overlay.”

COMMENT: Chairman Winnette’s rhetoric failed to come to terms with the major issue facing the Mayor and Board:  that the costs and uncertainties of the Historic Preservation Commission process were threatening a walk-out of the first developer for the derelict Coke building to show up in six years, Tricia Beisler of Catoctin Overlook LLC. She got the message loud and clear from the City’s Lisa Murphy that the Commission would resist demolition at the rear based on Murphy’s adherence to total-preservation ideology.

So if the Mayor and Board said ‘Yes’ to the HPC overlay they’d be saying ’No’ to the only viable preservation proposal to turn up for the Coke site in six years. More power to the HPC = less preservation! Which showed where the commission’s priorities lay in pursuing an expanded jurisdiction.

A small issue: Churchill was speaking in a debate on how the war-damaged Parliament building should be rebuilt and against those who favored rebuilding the chamber of the House of Commons to the European/American auditorium shape, saying that the unusual rectangular shape of the British House of Commons chamber and its clear divide of government delegates from the opposition had shaped the distinctly British style of parliamentary debate.  He was not speaking in generality about people being shaped by buildings.

On Winnette’s challenge to Frederick MD to match Charlottesville VA by ‘protecting’ its old Coca Cola plant the move to place the Charlottesville Coke building on the National Register of Historic Places came from the developer not the City which doesn’t have any Historic Preservation Commission and exercises light control in several small historic districts. Their Coke plant is in better condition than Frederick’s and it is located close to the downtown, so it is a more promising candidate for reuse. In Charlottesville the City doesn’t micromanage design like Frederick’s HPC.

Winnette was followed by Tricia Beisler, the developer and principal of Catoctin Overlook LLC. She was clear in saying that they couldn’t proceed if the HPC got control via the ‘overlay’ they were seeking because:

- the HPC process would cost them “well into six figures” and an unpredictable outcome

-  HPC staffer Lisa Murphy insisting the warehouse building at the rear contribute to the “historical integrity” of the complex and needs to be retained

- the lack of concern of the HPC for financial viability

- HPC staff refusing discussion of the project

“Our vision is to revive the property by converting it to multifamily housing….so residents can work shop and dine conveniently both in the downtown and on the northside of the city.To us the value of this property resides in its history with Coca-Cola and the good feeling that Coke engenders. We believe a lot of people will want to tell their family and friends proudly: ‘I live in the old Coke building in Frederick.’

“Our plan is to retain the entire streetscape and most of the main building including the Coca-Cola signature signage and the art deco architectural motifs. We would attach a new building at the rear of the property in place of the warehouse, which is literally crumbling…

“Preservation requires ensuring that a property is functional and sustainable for the future as well as protecting and honoring its past. We believe our plan for repurposing the Coke plant for multifamily housing does just that. We remain open to creating a legal vehicle (to assure) that we will not demolish the streetscape.

Andrew DiPasquale, a local lawyer involved in efforts to sell the property since it became vacant in 2008 said he found the HPC’s stance “adversarial.”

“We thought we are giving the city what it wants but we are being told No thanks, we want more.”

This attitude, he said, could kill the project.

DiPasquale said he had an engineering report done for an early prospective purchaser which described the rear building as “beyond repair” so its retention was a “non-starter.” He had said the same thing at the mayor & board workshop three weeks earlier (4/9), but nothing would shake the City’s Lisa Murphy from her fable, repeated again and again that the buildings are “well preserved.”

The lawyer said if the redevelopment proceeds outside a historic preservation overlay there will be no work at the site, and no demolition for 12 to 18 months while the developer is getting the land use zoning changed from the present neighborhood commercial (NC) to mixed use (MU). Without the MU rezone the land is “worthless.”

The Murphy myth that without the preservation overlay the building might immediately be demolished was “simply not the case.” The value to the purchaser lay in the signature streetfront facade and a rezoning to allow construction of apartments.

DiPasquale said “we are not being honest” if we fail to acknowledge the substantially greater time and costs of designing a project under a historic preservation overlay, and HPC processes. It also “introduces a level of uncertainty into the process.” He said the group had proposed ‘open dialog’ with the HPC and City officials to discuss the project but “at every turn we have been turned away.”

Various private citizens spoke:

Gail Bradley of west 12th Street, a neighborhood advisory coordinator said the Catoctin Overlook proposal  was a win-win proposition for the citizens and the city for Coke and for the developer. She said the power of the HPC should not be extended. People in her area had bought where they were to be close to downtown but “not to be subject to the strictures” of the HPC, which could deprive them of their property rights. A ‘big brother type overview’ by the HPC was not the best approach, when more cooperative approaches were available.

Coca-Cola should be treated the same as anyone else outside the historic district, Bradley said, and allowed to do business as they see fit. Long empty buildings are bad for any neighborhood, she said, and the City should support the developer’s proposal. Making unreasonable demands for historic preservation keeps too many buildings empty downtown, Bradley said.

Gil House, a writer of Urbana deplored “piecemeal” and “last minute rezoning” saying the HPC had had years to mover to take control of historic buildings listed in the last comprehensive plan but had done nothing about it until someone wanted to fix up the Coke building. The City had a terrible record of maintaining its own buildings, House said, and it was “unfair to give Coke a hard time” over theirs.

Charles Trump of Fairview Avenue spoke against the HPC takeover saying it wasn’t justified. If there was anything historic about the Coke building it was the frontage and the developer wanted to keep that, so there shouldn’t be any issue.

I spoke, saying the HPC push for control of the Coke site was a pure power grab and would be at the expense of preservation, because – wisely – the developer wasn’t willing to go through the HPC grinder. All the HPC brings, I said, is extra expense, long delays and micromanagement of your design. Plus the vagueness of the Guidelines means it casts a pall of uncertainty over what use can be made of a property at the end of the HPC process.  All negatives.

The City should be looking to rein in the HPC, reduce the area of its jurisdiction and toss out the 160 pages of guidelines which noone understands and which reduce citizens to serfs asking the lords and ladies of the HPC what they may do with their own property. Far from promoting historic preservation the HPC hinders it. Like many government bureaucracies it was started with the best of intentions but it is now more about its own power than about preservation. If the mayor and board were serious about historic preservation they’d deny the HPC’s power grab, and begin reform.

But the HPC had its supporters in the public comment period.

Dale Dowling a teacher of historic preservation and cultural history and consultant to the HPC defended the HPC processes, citing frequent examples of “leniency” in which applicants have been allowed to demolish.

“I would say in the years that I have been monitoring the HPC and its decisions the HPC that you have at this time is the most pro-development HPC that I have seen in 17 years.”

Honorabling

Mary Mannix of Frederick Preservation Trust (FPT) and we quote large slabs of her speech complete with her historic (royalist) salutations:

“The FPT encourages this honorable mayor and board of aldermen (M&B) to favorably consider the designation of the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant site in its entirety (emphasis) as eligible for historic preservation overlay (HPO) given its historical and cultural significance to the city of Frederick as a complex (emphasis) that is unusually intact with a high degree of integrity. … this honorable M&B enacted a demolition delay ordinance provision contained in section 423A of the land management code to ensure that our community does not lose historically significant properties without undergoing a review process by the city’s historic preservation commission and planning commission.

“In doing so this honorable M&B realized the beneficial impact HPOs have on residential property values and businesses. For evidence of this individuals only need to look at our thriving historic district. Too often the argument has been made that economic and historic preservation interests are mutually exclusive. The FTP has always maintained the contrary. Our community’s businesses thrive because of our historic district and our historic district remains dynamic through the commitment of business and residential property owners in preserving our unique and historically significant properties and sites under the guidance of the HPC volunteers and the city’s historic preservation planners.

“Accordingly by applying an HPO to the entire Coca-Cola bottling site this honorable M&B would acknowledge our community’s 20th century building stock and its value to Frederick’s historical, industrial and cultural identity. It is an example of art deco architecture which is a rare architectural style in the city of Frederick. The buildings further represent Frederick’s involvement in the local Coca-Cola bottling processing system. Both the brand and the industry have a significant  national impact, iconic of the American identity…

“Industrial complexes like the Coca-Cola bottling site are not (emphasis) composed of buildings and structures that exist or are independent of one another. Rather industrial sites are sites. They include buildings, objects, structures and features including landscape features that when considered in their entirety and purpose contribute to the identity of the complex. Accordingly the FPT agrees with the city staff report and the findings of the City’s HPC and PC concerning the historical significance of the Coca-Cola bottling plant (CCBP) site, the main art deco office building and the associated garage and  warehouse.  The integrity of the complex and the number of  buildings on the site is impressive and they effectively reflect Frederick’s architectural and industrial heritage in a microcosm.”

Kate McConnell, an architectural historian and member of the Frederick Planning Commission spoke along similar lines, in favor of the full overlay for the Coke site:

“I urge you to vote in favor of adopting the overlay for the CCBP. The complex represents our city’s mid 20th century commercial and industrial heritage and it is emblematic of the city’s growth to the north during this period. While the complex is later than what we often consider as historic it is none the less significant in its representation of our city’s long history and participation in an industry that could not be more American.”

She urged HPC jurisdiction be extended over another 26 properties listed in the 2010 comprehensive plan as possible historic buildings.

McConnell is firmly in the total preservation camp: “Once one of these properties is altered it no longer represents its historic importance and its essence is also lost.”

So is Barbara Wyatt, a former Frederick City preservation officer, now an officer of the US Government’s historic preservation arm at the US National Park Service.  She doesn’t handle Maryland matters but she said she had asked the colleague who does handle Maryland’s  buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. He told her: ‘Yes, the Coke plant in Frederick is eligible for the National Register.’

“So we are dealing with a property that is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places but it is certainly eligible.”

Wyatt expressed opposition to any proposal that would use only a few walls: “That is really not preserving the building, that is not somebody who can say they Iive in the old Coke Building if there is just a couple of (the original) walls left there.” She urged use of tax credits to allow the developer to “rehab this building, not to tear it down, and leave a semblance of it through some standing walls.”

General public “has difficulty” understanding historic significance of industrial buildings

Speaking to Alderman Phil Dacey who had said he thought Lisa Murphy’s characterization of the site as having played a significant role in Frederick’s history was a “stretch” Barbara Wyatt said: “I do understand that industrial buildings are among the hardest for the general public to understand the significance of them and why they appeal, but others have said, Lisa has said eloquently, they are an important part of our building fabric. They are not maybe the most heavily designed buildings in town. They are very mundane often. That’s what makes (the Coke building) very special. It does have some special design treatments on it.”

CONCLUSION: Unaddressed by these extreme preservationists was the developer’s promise to cancel her purchase of the property if the HPC was given jurisdiction. Not a word devoted to how the buildings would be preserved after Beisler walked, was uttered by any of these people. And not even a passing thought was given to the limitations on project design from the insistence that all the existing buildings be retained, or to the impact on its financial viability. But then the City’s Lisa Murphy in her staff report was just as firmly in the total-preservation camp, and just as unconcerned about Beisler departing and the buildings being left for many more years to the weeds and the vandals, and the erosion of the elements.

Further the Historic Preservation Commission has no legal or political warrant for imposing the extremists’ ideology of total preservation, the notion that all the buildings of a site need to considered as an integral whole because together they somehow “tell a story” or provide a “historical narrative.” Nothing they can cite in the Frederick Guidelines, or in the City’s land management code, the legal basis for the historic preservation process, supports this sweeping agenda.

The video can be viewed here:

http://cityoffrederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=2092

PS 2014-06-08

Your Comments are invited.Please send feedback to petersamuel@mac.com
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