Renovation efforts on a blighted downtown town house were set back after the Frederick Historic Preservation Commission denied a property owner’s window and door replacement plans.
The commission rejected the request to replace 17 windows and the main entrance door at 109 W. South St. by a unanimous vote Thursday.
The decision was also recommended by Christina Martinkosky, one of the city’s historic preservation planners, because the original windows and doors were reparable and should be preserved.
Martinkosky also recommended against the replacement vinyl-clad windows proposed as replacements because the materials do not meet the requirements for the Frederick Town Historic District.
The decision marks the latest in a series of struggles between the city and the property owner, Income One LLC. The increasingly tense communication between Martinkosky and Garrett Adler, one of the principals of the business entity that owns the town house, was highlighted in emails included in the staff report for the application heard Thursday.
The emails detail several instances in which the property owners changed or demolished certain aspects of the 1880 structure without first asking for the requisite city approvals.
Most recently, several of the second-story windows slated to be replaced as part of the application were removed without historic preservation commission approval, according to the staff report.
Several commission members voiced concern with Adler’s renovation plans, highlighting the building’s historic significance. The property was built in 1880, according to Sanborn maps.
“I’m really upset about the way this property has been treated,” said commission member Carrie Albee. Albee called the removal of windows without commission approval, as well as the replacement plans proposed, “totally inappropriate.”
Commission member Dan Lawton agreed. He said the renovation work was an opportunity to showcase an iconic historic structure or to bastardize it.
“We really need to encourage you to go in the right direction,” he told Adler.
Adler acknowledged that he wasn’t “as well-versed as I should have been” regarding the need to get city approval before changing or removing certain building components. However, he defended some of those removals as necessary.
The rotting wooden boards removed from the porch without commission approval, for example, posed a safety hazard that the city’s code enforcement department highlighted in a recent code violation, Adler said.
Adler explained the removal of windows as an accident that occurred due to a miscommunication with the contractor hired for interior renovation work. Once he realized what happened, he salvaged the original windows.
In an interview before the public hearing, he expressed frustration with the commission and Martinkosky for what he called red tape and a lack of cooperation.
“It’s been a definite nightmare,” Adler said of efforts to renovate the town house.
The property was one of 30 identified on the city’s blighted property and property watch list for a total of more than 20 code violations, some still open and others now resolved. The city faced difficulties getting the previous owner to bring the property up to code, The News-Post previously reported.
Income One LLC purchased the property for $37,000 at a tax sale in September 2014, although the official transfer of ownership was not recorded with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation until March of this year, according to online property records. Adler said he and his partners hoped to renovate and either sell or lease the property, as they have done with nearly 30 other properties locally and nationwide since 2008.
Many of the group’s other renovation projects centered on blighted properties — Adler estimated 10 to 15 of the properties they’d renovated faced code violations at the time they were purchased — but none were subject to historic regulations, Adler said. Although the city made the need to address open code violations clear at the time of the sale, Adler said he never received information about the requirements for renovation work in the historic district.
“Had I known what this would become, I might not have even started down this road,” Adler said. “Even at this point, I’m considering just selling it.”
As a condition of its vote Thursday, the commission required Adler to restore the original windows to the building. If he can prove that individual windows are so dilapidated that they cannot be reinstalled, however, city staff members may approve replacement windows on a case-by-case basis.
Additional exterior renovation work will also be subject to the historic district guidelines. Minor work may be approved administratively, but major changes or demolitions require a commission public hearing.
The property currently has eight open code violations, all issued in September, according to the city’s code enforcement database. It also remains as a property to watch on the city blight list, which is updated quarterly.