Showing posts with label historic preservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historic preservation. Show all posts

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Maryland Supreme Court to hear appeal in Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition case

Maryland's Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear the appeal of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition to overturn a state appellate court ruling regarding the sale of property that includes a major portion of Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda. The June ruling itself overturned an injunction by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Karla Smith, that froze the impending sale of Westwood Tower at 5401 Westbard Avenue to Charger Ventures. Charger Ventures withdrew its purchase offer following Smith's ruling, but Westwood Tower owner Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County appealed to the higher court and won. 

The Supreme Court's ultimate ruling in this case will have local and national implications for Black cemeteries, many of which are today in states of desecration and disrepair, hidden, or under threat from development. Moses African Cemetery is in all three categories. 

Smith ruled that HOC had entered a sale agreement without notifying the descendants of those buried in the cemetery, and without giving them a chance to weigh in on the sale, as required under Maryland law. Inexplicably, the appellate court found that following the law was not necessary.

This is a common occurrance when citizens challenge developers and powerful real estate interests in any Montgomery County or Maryland court. BACC noted yesterday that the Maryland Supreme Court only accepts about 15% of the certiorari petitions filed. But residents win over developers in our courts at an even lower rate than that, with judges blatantly ignoring statutory requirements on developers and planning authorities, as in the Westbard case. Smith, a relatively recent appointee to the Circuit Court in 2015, was a rare exception in ruling that the laws actually do apply to developers in Montgomery County.

Photo courtesy Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition

Friday, August 25, 2023

The heart of Olde Towne Gaithersburg is up for sale

The potential sale of a sprawling set of classic retail properties in the heart of Olde Towne Gaithersburg could have a transformative impact on one of the few remaining historic downtown cores in Montgomery County. Five contiguous retail properties with frontage along E. Diamond Avenue and N. Summit Avenue are now on the market. Of course, any sense of continuity of character in Gaithersburg went out the window some time ago, with the development of the soulless, cheap-looking, stack-and-pack Gaithersburg Station apartments further down at 370 E. Diamond. It's a travesty. Will the heart of Olde Towne now meet the same fate?

What's up for sale? 206-208 E. Diamond Avenue, 210-216 E. Diamond Avenue, 220 E. Diamond Avenue and 226 E. Diamond Avenue. It's a total of 32,819-square-feet of land on 1.65 acres. Current zoning allows a maximum building height of four stories on this site. The sale listing notes that the City of Gaithersburg is likely to demand first floor retail in any redevelopment. Parking waivers will be available due to nearby public parking. The listing says there are no historical preservation requirements, another travesty.

This will be a "historic" redevelopment opportunity in a historic downtown. Is there a developer who can do this responsibly, and maintain the Olde Towne character on a site visible from the historic B&O Railroad train station? A site that is one of the first things seen upon entering the heart of Olde Towne on Summit Avenue? I'll concede that the site is certainly easy walking distance to MARC commuter rail, but haven't we learned anything from the wholesale destruction of the historic downtowns of Rockville and Bethesda in the past? This is a saga worth watching closely.

Photos courtesy Transwestern/LoopNet

Monday, June 26, 2023

Rockville's historic Wire Hardware building acquired by Futuris

Rockville staffing and technology firm Futuris has purchased the historic Wire Hardware building at 22 Baltimore Road, the company announced this morning. It will serve as the company's headquarters. Futuris plans to preserve the building, while updating it with contemporary sustainability and "green" features. Interior changes will emphasize natural lighting.

"We are incredibly excited about this significant investment in our future," Futuris CEO/CFO Robert Day said in a statement. "The acquisition of this exceptional building will not only allow us to accommodate our expanding workforce, but also provide a collaborative space that fosters creativity."

The two-story, Queen Anne-style building was completed in 1898. According to Maryland Historical Trust documents citing information compiled by local historian Eileen McGuckian, this property was in an area of the city that began to develop in anticipation of the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose Rockville train station would open in 1873. The railroad continues to operate today under the ownership of CSX, and is a major route used by trains between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

William Wallace Welsh acquired the property at 22 Baltimore Road in 1884, building a frame general store that burned down in 1895. He then constructed the new store, as well as a home. The house, which was right next to the store, was demolished in 1978. From this prime location directly across from the railroad depot, Welsh and his partner David H. Warfield sold tools, grain, fuel and "provisions," McGuckian wrote. Paul Wire acquired the business and property in 1964, reestablishing it as Wire Hardware & Lumber Company.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Rockville tells historic district homeowner to hide basketball court, or lose it

UPDATED - June 10, 2023 11:49 AMThe article has been updated to note that the homeowner has filed two separate applications with the Historic District Commission, one for a Certificate of Approval for landscaping, and one for a Courtesy Review of proposed changes to make the court less visible.

The City of Rockville has called a foul on a modern, half-court basketball court installed at a home in the city's West End Park historic district. Such a facility cannot be added to a home in that area without approval by the city's Historic District Commission. The homeowner at 401 W. Montgomery Avenue did not pursue that approval. Rockville code inspectors "became aware" of the concrete basketball court surrounded with 10' netting, and a fence on the property's western side, on January 10, 2023, and determined the owner of the 1890 Second Empire/Georgian Revival-style home had permits for neither.

The homeowner then applied retroactively for a certificate of approval from the HDC on January 13, a request the commissioners ultimately denied on February 16. At that time, the homeowner was advised that they could appeal the decision in court, or submit a new application for a COA that would be compliant with historic preservation standards. Failure to obtain success via either option would result in the City requiring them to destroy the basketball court.

After the 30-day judicial appeal window expired, and the homeowner did not submit a new COA application, the City issued a Notice of Violation on April 12. A month later, the homeowner submitted an application for a COA to install landscaping in front of the basketball court, and a second application for a courtesy review of proposed changes to make the court less visible. 

HDC staff reviewed the application, but found the homeowner's proposed changes were inadequate. Staff then proposed changes that would bring the basketball court and application into compliance. These include planting evergreen "privacy" trees along the fence in front of the basketball court, relocating the hoop and rebound net to the opposite side of the court, lowering or removing the remaining netting around the court (requiring approval of a fence permit), and replacing the 6' property line fence with an 8' fence.

The primary focus of the City is to block the view of the court from both the street, and from the house next door. Staff review determined the court is currently in violation of at least four of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation of historic properties.  

HDC commissioners will review the latest COA application at their June 15 meeting. If they approve the COA, the homeowner will have 90 days to complete the approved changes. Should they not do so by October 9, the City "will issue citations and seek removal of the half-court basketball court through a Court order." 

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Major changes proposed for once-iconic, long-vacant Rockville mansion

100 W. Montgomery Avenue in Rockville was once an iconic mansion known as one of the most beautiful homes in town. It's hard to argue with that description looking at old photographs of the Queen Anne-style Victorian home built in 1888 for the wealthy Rebecca Veirs. A 1945 fire changed that, with parts of the home having been destroyed, and then rebuilt with additions that greatly altered its appearance. Also altered was its use, from private home to boarding house. Long vacant, the structure is now deteriorating. 

2009 photo of the home

A redevelopment of the property has now been proposed by its owner and local architect Craig Moloney. It would nod to both the original home, and its later multifamily use at the same time. First, the front of the home would be moved forward on the property, closer to the street like the church next door. Second, Moloney would attempt to more accurately recreate the original appearance of the front facade of the home. The post-1945 additions behind it would be demolished, and replaced with an 8-unit apartment building. A small parking lot for tenants would be constructed behind the proposed building.

2022 photo

2022 photo

The Rockville Historic District Commission will conduct a courtesy review of the proposal at its March 16, 2023 meeting. That review is intended to provide feedback from commissioners, and anyone who wishes to testify at the meeting, to the applicant. It is not going to be a final recommendation that will be voted upon that particular evening.

Proposal to move the front of the
home up to the green dotted line

Planning staff have not recommended approval of the proposal yet, finding that it does not meet at least five of the criteria the HDC uses to evaluate this type of application. The proposed building would be significantly larger than the existing home, and larger than most other homes on W. Montgomery Avenue and S. Adams Street. Remaining historic materials on the house would be lost, and the proposed apartment addition would wrap around three sides of the structure. Staff also found that there was not a structural report submitted that adequately verifies that the existing home is beyond repair, and that the proposal would remove several mature trees from the lot.

"The applicant needs to provide much more information to justify the current proposal," the staff report concludes. "Without a structural report there is no definitive evidence of the building’s condition and the HDC can’t make an educated recommendation. With the provided information the HDC can only recommend the house should be rehabilitated and brought into compliance."

Images courtesy City of Rockville, Google Street View

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Rockville seeks permission to remove failed dam from historic property

The City of Rockville is seeking permission to remove a failed dam from the historic Glenview Farm property at 603 Edmonston Drive, which is home to Glenview Mansion and the Rockville Civic Center park. While the dam is no longer functioning properly, and cannot be replaced under today's federal and state environmental rules, it is considered a contributing resource to a historic site. For this reason, the Rockville Historic District Commission must determine if historic preservation of the dam structure is warranted.

Sitting across Croydon Creek, the dam was constructed in the 1920s when the site was a functioning farm. It created a reservoir that was used as a water source for cattle, and for the irrigation of crops. The original farmhouse is now part of Glenview Mansion. Rockville's Environmental Management Division would now like to execute a stream restoration project at the site, and it will require removal of the dam. Today, the dam is breached in two locations, and small chunks of it have been pushed by the currents of Croydon Creek downstream.

The design phase of the stream restoration project received funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration. That design process is now 90% complete. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has allocated $2,000,000 from its Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund for the actual construction of the project.

HDC commissioners will review the dam to determine if it can be removed or not at its October 20, 2022 meeting. City staff are recommending commissioners approve removal of the dam.

Photo/map courtesy City of Rockville

Friday, September 9, 2022

Rockville Historic District Commission to review demolition request for West End-area home

The owner of 101 Adclare Road in the West End area of Rockville, and Ambition Custom Homes, LLC of Clarksburg, have requested an evaluation of historical significance for the property by the Rockville Historic District Commission. They are seeking permission to demolish the existing home on the site to clear the way for a new one.

101 Adclare Road was built in 1951, but has been extensively modified in the decades since, including the additions of a porch and second story. A memo submitted with the application notes the many issues with the house, such as inadequate electrical and plumbing systems. The City has contacted the West End Community Association and historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville about the proposed demolition, and have not yet received any objections, according to the staff report.

The HDC will review the request at its September 15, 2022 meeting. City Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri is recommending the commissioners find the property is not historic, as the home does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Rockville Council considers new options in West End historic designation case, Mayor recuses herself

Rockville City Council members will discuss three new options to resolve a controversial historic preservation case in the city's West End neighborhood at their meeting tonight, June 6, 2022 at 7:00 PM. The options are on the table after new developments in the debate over whether or not to declare the home at 406 Great Falls Road historic, which have transpired since the April 25 hearing on the question. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has formally recused herself from voting on the matter. In a letter filed with City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell on May 10, Newton wrote that she would recuse herself from "taking any action on Sectional Map Amendment application MAP 2022-00123 as well as from any further proceedings on that application," because her husband owns an abutting property at 13 Dale Drive that could be "'directly and economically' impacted" by the outcome of the case.

Newton's recusal letter was filed a day after the attorney for the owners of 406 Great Falls Road wrote to the Mayor and Council that her clients were concerned Newton had a conflict of interest in the case. Attorney Erin Girard wrote that in a previous historic designation discussion in 2010, Newton disclosed that her husband had previously made an unsuccessful bid to purchase 406 Great Falls. Newton also testified against historic designation of 406 Great Falls three years earlier, Girard wrote. The owners formally requested that Newton recuse herself from the case, Girard concluded in her letter.

The Mayor's recusal could impact the outcome of the historic designation question. There is now the mathematical potential for the Council to deadlock 2-2 in its final vote, for example.

More fundamental to the issue, Girard contacted the city's Chief of Planning, Jim Wasilak, and disclosed that there were actually two separate buildable lots on the 406 Great Falls property recorded with the City in 1941. A staff report notes this was not uncommon in Rockville, where many buildable lots recorded with the City were never built on. It has been standard practice for the City to honor these recorded lots in the present day. Therefore, the owners of 406 Great Falls could theoretically build the "dream home" they have proposed behind the existing home, leaving the latter in place.

As a result of this development, three new options have been proposed by city staff. The first option is to declare both of the buildable lots at 406 Great Falls historic, which would preserve the existing home, and require the owners to go through the formal Historic District Commission certificate of approval process when building their new home or altering the existing one. Option 2 would be to only designate the front lot with the existing home as historic, and allow construction of a new home behind it that would not be subject to formal approval from the HDC. Option 3 would be to not declare either lot historic, thereby allowing demolition of the existing home.

City staff is recommending Option 1. In addtion, staff recommends reopening the public record on the case, and allowing oral testimony on the question at tonight's meeting. At the conclusion of that public testimony tonight, the Council would discuss the matter, and give staff instructions. Based on what staff is directed to do by the Council, it will prepare an ordinance for approval of historic designation, or a resolution of denial, at a future Mayor and Council meeting on June 27, 2022 or later.

The City has also received further written public communications on the matter.

West End resident - and former Mayor of Rockville - Larry Giammo emailed the Mayor and Council the day after the April 25 hearing, questioning why local preservation organization Peerless Rockville was given only five minutes to testify. In contrast, the property owners had "at least 20 minutes total (maybe more; I wasn't keeping count)" to speak throughout the hearing. Peerless Rockville was the original party to request the evaluation of the property for historic designationn. But, Giammo wrote, they were not given sufficient time to lay out their case, nor to respond to assertions made by the owners and their representatives after Peerless Rockville Director Nancy Pickard finished her testimony.

On the side opposing historic designation, another Rockville resident wrote a letter in support of the owners after the April 25 hearing. There is no justification for preserving the dilapidated home, he wrote, and doing so would represent a partial taking of the property by the City.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Rockville Mayor & Council hear arguments for, against historic designation of 406 Great Falls Road

The fate of a nearly 80-year-old Tudor Revival home at 406 Great Falls Road will be decided by Rockville's Mayor and Council at their May 16, 2022 meeting. Last night, they heard arguments for and against historic designation of the home in a public hearing. The property was nominated for historic designation by local preservation organization Peerless Rockville on June 8, 2021. After an evaluation by city staff found the home met two of the criteria for designation, the Rockville Historic District Commission and Planning Commission both agreed, and the question now goes before the Mayor and Council for a final decision.

406 Great Falls Road was constructed from a Sears Roebuck kit home model called The Belmont. The house has already been listed in the Rockville Historic Buildings Catalogue. Its new owners are seeking to demolish the home and build a larger one on the property. Co-owner Joel Martinez and his architect (and former HDC commissioner) Craig Maloney have argued that the home is in disrepair, and does not qualify for historic preservation. The owners' attorney, Erin Girard, noted last night that the home was rejected for historic designation when it was first nominated in 2007. Given that the house has only further deteriorated since then, and no significant new evidence has been brought forward to argue otherwise, Girard suggested it would be inappropriate for the Mayor and Council to now place it under historic designation.

One point of controversy is whether or not the owners plan to live in the home, or are developers who are merely going to build a new home and then flip the property. West End resident and former mayor Larry Giammo testified that he considers the owners to be developers, as they recently tore down another home at 515 Beall Avenue. After building a new home on the site, they then sold it for $1.15 million, he reported.

Martinez was asked by the Mayor and Council if he would like to respond to the assertion that the owners plan to do another teardown flip project. He testified that he had built a dream house to live in permanently at 515 Beall, and that it had won an architectural award. But, he said, a neighbor would park his pickup truck in front of the home, so that he had no place for his own vehicles or those of his guests to park, and could not put his trash cans out for curbside pickup.

When he asked the neighbor about moving the truck, the neighbor allegedly responded that he knew Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and "threatened me with your name, Madam Mayor," Martinez testified. Thus, he and his co-owner decided to sell the home, purchase 406 Great Falls, and build a similar house in its place. Martinez said the new home site has plenty of parking for the use of owners and guests.

Doug Lunenfeld, a neighbor of the owners in the West End, a real estate professional, and an active landlord in the city, backed Martinez' assertion that he is not simply a house flipper and developer. "That is not the case," Lunenfeld testified. "I am 100% certain that these owners want to build their dream home." He called 406 Great Falls a "dilapidated home," and urged the Mayor and Council to take a walk-through of the house before they vote next month. "The integrity was bad in 2007," Lunenfeld said, and it's even worse now. He argued that the gateway to Rockville would be improved by the prospective new home. "Let's make it the great gateway again," he concluded.

But Giammo posited that the owners would know that city staff had just recommended historic designation for the home, when the previous owners had sought to tear it down in 2020, if they had done "due diligence" in making the purchase. Giammo, himself a licensed real estate agent and broker, noted that their real estate agent would have been required to notify them of that fact, even if the owners hadn't researched the matter themselves. They were also familiar with the process from having gone through the historic designation evaluation of 515 Beall, he added. Peerless Rockville has made an "objective, compelling and unassailable case" for preservation of the home, Giammo said.

Peerless Rockville's Director, Nancy Pickard, underscored the fact that her organization has been extremely sparing in its nomination of homes for historic designation. Their nomination of 406 Great Falls has been supported by both of the city commissions whose approval is necessary, she testified, and that it is a rare example of a Tudor Revival home in the city. "We felt very strongly that this property merits this protection," she said.

West End resident Noreen Bryan testified that, like Lunenfeld, she lives on a nearby street. She, too, referred to Great Falls as the gateway to the city, but viewed that as a reason to preserve the home, not tear it down. The architecture and its placement on the large lot with generous setback makes it a key landmark that is visually memorable, "and has been so for nearly 80 years," she noted. Bryan said that 406 Great Falls is "unusual and therefore precious," and is key to the defintion of the West End's neigbhorhood character. "This property is of great importance to the city," she said.

Another nearby West End resident, Margaret Magner, also testified in favor of historic designation. She asked the Mayor and Council to consider that, in the time since the designation of the home was not approved in 2007, many more original Rockville homes have been lost. That makes the home "of greater value to the community today than it was 15 years ago," she suggested. Magner also expressed concern that a window of the house has been left open during bad weather recently.

Councilmember David Myles sought to clarify the notation by the city's preservation expert, Sheila Bashiri, that historic designation would still allow the property to be added to or altered. This was confirmed by staff. But Maloney said that, in this particular case, the condition and size of the property is such that the modification route is not viable. 

Of the residents who submitted written testimony to the HDC, thirteen supported historic designation of 406 Great Falls, and one opposed it.

Photos via City of Rockville

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Rockville Historic District Commission to determine if N. Stonestreet Ave. house can be demolished

The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider whether or not the home at 903 N. Stonestreet Avenue should be declared historic at its April 21, 2022 meeting. An applicant is seeking permission to demolish the home and build another on the property. The one-and-a-half-story home was built in 1937, and has a later addition in the rear. An aluminum-siding shed is located in the backyard.

A structural engineer retained by the applicant determined that the home is in poor condition with extensive wood rot. Along with foundation cracks and water damage, the engineer concluded that the cost of repairs that would make the home habitable again would meet or exceed construction of a brand-new home. The home has been passed down through the same family since it was first built, and the new home proposed for the site would be for a nephew of the most-recent owner, who passed away in 2019.

City of Rockville Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri evaluated the property, and has determined it does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation. Bashiri has therefore recommended against declaring the property historic.

Photos via City of Rockville

Friday, February 11, 2022

Rockville HDC to determine historic significance of Great Falls Road home

The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider the historic significance of a property at 500 Great Falls Road at its next virtual meeting, scheduled for February 17, 2022 at 7:00 PM. 500 Great Falls Road is a single-family home in the Rockville Heights subdivision. It was nominated for historic status by historic preservation non-profit Peerless Rockville.

Peerless Rockville nominated the home last year after it noticed the owner beginning significant renovations to the structure. The City of Rockville has asked the owner to state his position on the nomination, but has not received an indication of his approval or opposition to the proposed inclusion of the property in an historic district. However, the owner did request a certificate of approval from the HDC last year for the renovations. He told the commission that moisture retention by the stucco applied to the home was damaging the interior, and rendering the foundation unstable.

The original home at 500 Great Falls Road
flanked by HDC-approved additions now
under construction

The HDC ultimately granted approval for the owner's proposed changes to the property. However, it did not render an official judgement as to the home's designation as historic. Dr. Clara Bliss Hinds Finley, a nationally-known female physician who founded multiple organizations and lectured on women's and children's health, resided in the home during summers between 1916 and and her death in 1940. She is buried in Rockville Cemetery.

City of Rockville Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri has determined that the property meets the following criteria for historic designation:  It represents the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, as the home of a women who was a pioneer in her field, Dr. Clara Bliss Finley, and her daughter, a prominent suffragist. Second, it embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, as it is already listed in the city's Historic Buildings Catalogue as a prime representative of the Colonial Revival style. Finally, it is an established visual feature in the Rockville Heights neighborhood. Its surrounding lot, house footprint and massing are intact, and its Colonial Revival architecture and placing on the large corner lot have made it an established visual feature in that community.

For these reasons, Bashiri is recommending the HDC find that the home does meet the criteria for historic designation, and that the commissioners forward a recommendation to the Mayor and Council to place the property in the historic district zone.

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, December 13, 2021

Rockville Historic District Commission to consider historic significance of Lincoln Park house

The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider the historic significance of a single-family home in Lincoln Park, to determine whether the owners may demolish the structure. 215 Lincoln Avenue is located off of a shared driveway. It began as part of a larger, single kinship lot shared by a family in 1932. The lot was subdivided in 1989, at which point the home was given its present address.

A review by city planning staff member Sheila Bashiri found that the home does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation. While the community of Lincoln Park is very significant in the African-American history of Rockville and Montgomery County, the house itself has been altered to the point that it has lost its historic physical integrity, Bashiri wrote. Construction of additional homes around it have erased the only historical context for the site, which was the phenomenon of shared kinship properties, Bashiri noted.

The HDC will consider the historic significance of the property at its December 16, 2021 virtual meeting, and issue a recommendation. Bashiri's staff report recommends against historic designation.

Photos via City of Rockville

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rockville Historic District Commission to review proposed demolition of two Chapman Avenue buildings

1800 Chapman Avenue

Two more midcentury modern buildings will be considered for historic designation by the Rockville Historic District Commission at its virtual meeting this Thursday night, October 21, 2021 at 7:00 PM. A developer is seeking to tear down 1800 Chapman Avenue and 1818 Chapman Avenue, in order to construct a new apartment building.

1800 Chapman Avenue

1800 Chapman Avenue was built around 1954, planning staff found, but documents pinpointing the exact date and architect have been lost. It was built for Bowen & Company, a manufacturer of medical instruments. The building has been vacant since the firm went out of business.

1800 Chapman Avenue

1818 Chapman Avenue was designed by modernist architect Donald N. Coupard, a graduate of Rockville High School, Montgomery College and Catholic University. It was built for Dermot A. Nee, whose father founded the P.J. Nee Furniture Company across the street. Initially a garage and warehouse used to store Dairy Dan Ice Cream trucks when they weren't roaming the streets, it was most recently Tony's Body Shop, and is now vacant. Coupard incorporated design touches into the building from the furniture store, such as its stone pillars and distinctive windows and double doors.

1818 Chapman Avenue

Both buildings have unique designs and represent their time period well. But neither qualifies for historic designation under the existing criteria, planning staff argues in its report. Staff suggests there are "numerous examples of these types of structures within Rockville." Commissioners will consider this, and any other viewpoints from preservation organizations and the public, at Thursday's meeting. They will then make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council. 

1818 Chapman Avenue

1818 Chapman Avenue

Photos via City of Rockville

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

JP Morgan Chase rep trashes renowned Rockville architect in presentation to Mayor & Council

Rockville's Mayor and Council received testimony regarding whether or not the former Meixin Supermarket building at 460 Hungerford Drive should be designated historic last night. They ultimately decided to leave the public record open for another week to receive further comments, meaning a final decision won't come before next Monday at the earliest. While those representing JP Morgan Chase, N.A. in the matter were expected to argue against historic designation, preservation advocates were taken aback when Chase's expert witness went beyond the building at hand, to trash the entire career of renowned Rockville architect James "Jack" Sullivan.

Sullivan has been lauded locally for his many landmark buildings in the city and elsewhere in Montgomery County. Structures like the Rockville Swim Center and Aspen Hill Library remain prime examples of midcentury modern architecture, and the post-World War II growth of our suburban area. The late Sullivan was featured alongside fellow architect Jack Samperton in a documentary for Rockville's Channel 11, A Pair of Jacks. His work, such as 900 Spring Street in Silver Spring, won awards.

But in the words of JP Morgan Chase's expert, Sullivan "was not a master architect," and was "never recognized by his peers." Really? She dismissed Sullivan as "a workaday architect," and said only the Aspen Hill Library qualified as an exceptional building. 

Anyone with a passing knowledge of, or interest in, midcentury modern architecture would find such a critique laughable on its face. Much of Sullivan's work is indeed exceptional, and today's newer buildings most often pale in comparison. While 460 Hungerford Drive may not represent the summit of Sullivan's portfolio, such a savage ravaging of the man's work is farcical when it is proposed to be replaced with a box of a bank branch. No Rockville hearts were won by JP Morgan Chase last night.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Historic status of former Chinese supermarket to be decided in Rockville tonight

There are several significant resolutions on the agenda of the Rockville Mayor and Council tonight. Votes tonight will determine if all City employees must be vaccinated, and if Rockville will expand to take the King Buick GMC dealership property into its boundaries. Also on the agenda: a vote to decide whether the former Meixin Supermarket at 460 Hungerford Drive merits historic designation.

The distinctive Mansard roof-topped structure is one of many Rockville landmarks designed by the architecture firm of the late John "Jack" Sullivan. Sullivan was also responsible for the Aspen Hill Library, the Rockville Swim Center, and the Humble Car Care Center (R.I.P.). The Mayor and Council will have to weigh how many buildings in the Sullivan portfolio must be preserved versus the desire of J.P. Morgan Chase to open a bank branch on the site. 

City staff is recommending against historic designation, arguing the structure does not meet the established criteria. Preservation organization Peerless Rockville contends otherwise. "Peerless contends that the growth of the City in the Mid-Century is truly significant to the development of the city itself and deserved to be fully surveyed, researched, documented and evaluated before the [Historic District] Commission can adequately render judgement on any particular building's significance," wrote Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of Peerless Rockville. Matthew McCool, a Vice-President at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. says that if the building is designated historic, the bank branch plan will be canceled.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Should Meixin Supermarket building in Rockville be declared historic?

The Rockville Planning Commission will consider whether or not the vacant Meixin Supermarket building at 460 Hungerford Drive should be declared historic or not at its July 28, 2021 meeting. City staff advised against changing the property's zoning to MXCD-HD (Historic District) in May. The city's Historic District Commission ruled otherwise on May 20, finding that the property met the criteria for designation, and recommending application of the Historic District (HD) overlay zone through the filing of a Sectional Map Amendment.

Now the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council regarding the fate of the property. JPMorgan Chase wishes to demolish the supermarket to clear the way for a Chase Bank branch. Planning staff is not recommending historic designation. While the building was designed by prominent Rockville architect John "Jack" Sullivan (1925-2014), staff argues it is not an exceptional example of his work. 

Historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, by contrast, has supported historic designation for the property. Peerless Rockville Executive Director Nancy Pickard noted in a May 2021 letter that the city's 1986 Historic Resources Management Plan is now outdated, placing 90 years of growth and architectural styles into a single period of consideration. Pickard suggested the city update its criteria to consider Midcentury Modern structures like the supermarket in the appropriate context, before making a final decision in this case.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Montgomery County activists celebrate failure of "racist" cemetery bill in Maryland House

Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road
in Bethesda, where some past members are buried
in the nearby Moses African Cemetery

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition celebrated a win in Annapolis Wednesday, as the Maryland House of Delegates declined to bring a controversial cemetery preservation bill to a vote as the 2021 session ended the previous day. HB 1099 was designed to provide funding for a statewide study of African-American burial grounds, and allow specific stakeholders to apply for a separate state grant for the purpose of preserving and commemorating a black cemetery. It had support from many established preservation groups in the state, and initially appeared likely to pass when the session began.

Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda is a prominent example of a black cemetery that was erased from the map in the mid-20th century. The grave markers were bulldozed or removed when the cemetery came into the possession of new landowners. In the late 1960s, the cemetery and many gravesites were further desecrated during the construction of the Westwood Tower apartments. Witnesses at the time have recounted that many remains within the footprint of the building were illegally relocated elsewhere on the property in a mass grave. Remaining graves were paved over for a parking lot for the building.

Such stories are common at African-American burial grounds across Montgomery County, Maryland and the nation. Sadly, many of these stories do not even come to light as development literally paves over the past. 

Even the historic African-American community that existed around Moses cemetery until the 1960s had been erased from County history, until I researched and brought it to light during the BETCO/Hoyt Property redevelopment hearings at the Planning Board in 2011. At the time, I warned the Planning Board, the County Council and the National Capital Planning Commission that there would likely be a cemetery related to that community that had been hidden in the area, and many historical artifacts to be located. 

Those government bodies did not listen. In 2014, the cemetery location was finally pinpointed, thanks to citizens who were contemporary witnesses to it, just as an out-of-state developer prepared to construct a new building and parking garage atop it. Those plans have been temporarily halted, but only thanks to years of effort and protest by cemetery advocates. But no further action has been taken by any branch or level of government to investigate, restore or commemorate the lost community, cemetery and the illegal desecration there.

The BACC, which is now leading efforts to restore and commemorate Moses cemetery, opposed HB 1099 because it "would have paid white preservation groups and their chosen consultants to entrench white supremacist control of historic Black burial grounds and sow division among their descendant communities, all while the desecration of Black burial grounds and cemeteries like Moses continued unabated." Declaring the bill "racist," BACC organized opposition and testimony against the bill as it moved through the legislative process this winter and spring.

When the bill was not brought to a vote Tuesday, the BACC celebrated the successful effort. "Defeating the bill seemed impossible in the face of its support from powerful politicians, developers, and white preservation establishment, bolstered by a calculated media misinformation campaign, but this grassroots mobilization turned delegates against it and killed the bill," the BACC said in a press release yesterday. "H.B. 1099 would have passed without this action, which demonstrates again that the people will always win."

One active front on the Moses cemetery battle is the construction of a self-storage facility on land directly adjacent to the cemetery's property line behind the McDonald's on River Road. That work recently resumed. Concern that remains may have been buried or illegally reburied beyond the cemetery boundaries led cemetery advocates to oppose construction of the facility prior to a thorough archaeological study of the self storage site. 

Montgomery County overruled that request. The County has been so strongly opposed to any archaeological investigation of the cemetery itself, that it not only blocked every attempt to achieve an independent survey, but even acquired a part of the cemetery to prevent any further investigation though private landowners who might cooperate in such efforts.

The self storage developer has retained a credentialed archaeologist, who has determined no remains or funerary objects were encountered during excavation of that site so far. BACC has dismissed that assessment as biased, and continues to hold protests near the construction site. Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 5:00 PM at 5204 River Road.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Proposal to demolish historic Rockville home postponed at Historic District Commission

A review of a controversial proposal to demolish an historic home at 725 N. Horners Lane in Rockville has been "postponed until further notice" by the city's Historic District Commission. City staff had determined the home, which has importance to African-American history in Rockville and Lincoln Park, met several criteria for historic designation. The reason for the postponement was not discussed at the HDC's monthly meeting, but Chair Matthew Goguen said he anticipated the issue would return for review "at a later date."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rockville Historic District Commission to consider demolition request for home built by prominent African-American family

The owner of 725 North Horners Lane in the Two Brothers subdivision in Rockville is seeking a ruling on whether a 1946 Cape Cod house on the property is historic, or can be demolished. Located across the street from the Lincoln Park Cemetery, the land was purchased in 1921 by an African-American man from the Olney-Sandy Spring area. Hilleary Hawkins was likely born into slavery, a Rockville Historic District Commission staff report suggests, because there is no official record of his birth, which was prior to the Civil War. Census records show his childhood home to be Washington, D.C., but family history says it was Brandywine, Maryland.

Hawkins' first two wives died, according to the staff report. His second wife, Alice Bowman, was forty years younger than Hilleary. She is believed to have died in the 1918 flu pandemic, and is buried in the the cemetery across the street, as is Hilleary himself. His grave was unmarked near a tree at the cemetery entrance. The staff report indicates its location was lost after "road improvements" disturbed the site. 

A prior home Hilleary Hawkins built on the property sometime after 1921 no longer stands. His son, Hazel, built the current home with his brother. The property was annexed by the City of Rockville in 1960, despite Hazel objecting to the city's move. Columbia Transfer, LLC, purchased the land in 2014 from Hilleary Hawkins' grandson, Paul. It has assembled several contiguous parcels for business use.

The Hawkins family is prominent in Rockville and Lincoln Park history, and many of their descendants continue to live in the area, the staff report notes. This home "is an example of African-American vernacular residential architecture, built by two brothers on the edge of Lincoln Park, during the period of segregation," Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri writes. "The house is solidly built and has retained its integrity." As such, the house meets two of the required criteria for historic designation.

Staff is therefore recommending the house be considered for historic designation, rather than demolition. It must be said that the site does have a special appeal, with the rural setting largely retained, and the home having unique architectural character while having been extremely well built. We also have a tremendous amount of information about this family and their experiences over a broad stretch of American and Rockville history; it's quite remarkable, and adds to the historic appeal of the site. The HDC will consider the historic designation question at its virtual online meeting on May 21, 2020