The partial demolition of a historic Frederick house without a permit might have been a matter of ignorance, a former mayor and a sitting county commissioner agree.
Former Mayor Jeff Holtzinger applied April 25 for a permit to tear down Park Hall, but the demolition began before he got involved, Holtzinger said.
County Commissioner Billy Shreve sits on the board of a company affiliated with Park Hall's owner but said he did not know the 19th-century house was being demolished.
Holtzinger -- a lawyer and a former city engineer -- responded to questions about the property on behalf of the owner's widow, Stephanie Jordan. Kenneth Jordan, who died in 2009, is listed as Park Hall's owner, following a property transfer to him from Jordan Associates in 2004, according to Maryland tax records.
Holtzinger and Shreve are on the board of Dewey Jordan Inc., Kenneth Jordan's road and bridge contracting company, which is separate from Jordan Associates, Shreve said. Stephanie Jordan is president of Dewey Jordan. She did not return calls seeking comment.
Shreve and Holtzinger said owners often do not know what permits are required to do work on their private property. The president of a construction company would not necessarily know a permit is required to tear down a privately owned house, they said.
"It is personal property," Shreve said. "It's totally different. It's totally separate industries."
The city investigated and stopped the demolition April 23 until the proper permit is obtained. A day later, Holtzinger tried to apply for the permit.
The house at 1100 E. Patrick St. is on the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation list of historic properties, but registration does not ensure preservation. Very little of the circa 1870 mansion is left standing.
Alderman Michael O'Connor believes it may be time to change how the city handles preservation of historic properties, he said. The city has a list of 25 such properties.
"What I want to do is preserve the resources," O'Connor said. "There are some basic protections we need to talk about."
The demolition permit process helps ensure safe handling of potentially hazardous materials and to protect neighbors from potential damage, Mayor Randy McClement said.
All property owners should be aware of the responsibility to maintain properties and prevent problems from neglect, McClement said. Permits are required for most construction and for all demolitions.
Stephanie Jordan asked Holtzinger to file the permit because of the former mayor's experience with the city, he said. He has completed the permit application and expects it will be approved, Holtzinger said Tuesday.
Park Hall has been in the city longer than Frederick planning officials can remember, but some of Dewey Jordan's adjacent property was annexed in 2009, when Holtzinger was mayor. Shreve, a real estate agent, said he had never listed Park Hall for sale and he knew nothing about the demolition before it began.
"It's not on any registry that prevents it from being torn down," Shreve said.
Holtzinger said the owner was faced with "an old house that has been repeatedly vandalized, had repeated incidents of trespassing," and was concerned about the liability associated with the vacant property.
"I believe the owner believes the prudent thing was being done to prevent a potential tragedy of someone getting hurt in this old house or the barns and outbuildings," Holtzinger said.
Holtzinger will work with the city to document a stone barn on the property, he said. He did not know what plans the owner has for the property.
Because Park Hall is "off the beaten path ... the demolition would not possibly impact any of the adjoining property owners," Holtzinger said.
Before the city will issue a permit for demolition, a city inspector must certify that the building is ready to be razed. The building department said obtaining a demolition permit typically takes three or four weeks.
O'Connor said some property owners might want to circumvent the process.
Owners may voluntarily request a special historic district overlay, he said, but some may not do so because the designation could delay development plans. He does not want to tell owners what to do with their properties, but he would like to see whether preservation is possible, O'Connor said.
"How can we create some sort of rational protection for them?" he said.
In some cases, preservation may not be the best option, he said, but he would like all of the city's historic properties to have a chance.
"Park Hall is gone," he said. "We have to (act) on some of these other ones."
How to demolish a structure in Frederick:
1. Preliminary inspection required (contact building department at 301-600-3818 or 3819)
2. Receive permit
3. Contact Frederick County Emergency Communications
4. Contain dust
5. Remove debris
6. Fill the foundation site, grade the lot, seed and return to mowable lawn
7. Final inspection required (contact building department)