Plans to demolish a Magnolia Avenue home, and fear that a “McMansion” will be built in its place, are expected to bring a full house of attendees to Thursday’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting.
But unless the homeowners have a change of heart, concerns from a number of their neighbors may not do anything to halt the plans.
According to property records, the owners of 210 Magnolia Ave. are Marlon and Tanya Artis. A request for demolition review that is set to go before the Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday states that the owners plan to demolish the house and build another in its place.
The commission is slated to hear the demolition review request to determine whether it is eligible for individual historic designation. The request was postponed June 29 after commissioners expressed concerns about tearing down a perfectly adequate old house and replacing it with what is expected to be a larger, more modern structure.
Neighbors have dubbed the structure expected to take the home’s place a “McMansion,” a slang term for a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity. After the June meeting, they began rallying and are now expected to have a large representation at Thursday’s meeting.
Plans for a ‘relatively
normal size’ home
Property records show that the Artises bought the two-story, 1,984-square-foot home in November 2016 for $395,000. Marlon Artis confirmed via phone Tuesday that he is the owner of the house, but he did not return a later call for further comment.
Records show the Artises submitted a request on June 21 to raze the two structures on the property — which include the house and a two-car detached garage — and build a new house and new detached garage.
The request does not contain details about what type of home or garage the Artises plan to build, and no building permits have been issued for the property through the city’s permitting department.
Curt Adkins, president of Mitchell & Best Homes, is the builder slated to construct the new house. He said at a June 29 Historic Preservation Commission meeting that the house he plans to build at 210 Magnolia is similar to one under construction on Second Street, diagonally across from tennis courts at Baker Park.
“This particular home that they would like to build happens to be the one that we have under construction right now,” Adkins said in the meeting. “It’s probably different colors. ... I don’t know if any of you have gone by and seen the most recent home there at Baker Park under construction. It would essentially be that same design.”
Adkins said via phone after the meeting that although the property is not in the Frederick Town Historic District and is not part of a historic overlay zone, the new house will be designed “in character with the homes in the historic district.”
“The historic district is an eclectic collection of styles. This will be compatible with those,” he said.
Adkins also said the projected home is slated to have two stories and four bedrooms and described it as “relatively normal size for a new home.”
Fearing a ‘McMansion’
Bob Toft lives at 207 Magnolia Ave., a few feet from the Artises’ home. On Tuesday, Toft said he was concerned when he learned about the plans for 210 Magnolia.
“Demolishing that house will tear at the heart of this neighborhood,” Toft said. “People have been talking about selecting this neighborhood [to live] because it embodies the best of living in Frederick. Tree-lined streets, old, stately houses, nice families, all of the things that make Frederick a nice community.”
“Everybody’s really afraid that this is more than a house is being torn down, it’s a way of life,” he added.
Neighbors began an email chain last week to get the word out about the request and trade information. One neighbor also created fliers titled “The McMansion on Magnolia Avenue” that detailed the request and the neighbors’ concerns, and encouraged residents to attend Thursday’s meeting. Toft said the neighbor began handing out the fliers this week and that he knew who created them, but that the neighbor did not want to be named.
John Grgurich, who has lived at 301 Magnolia for nine years, has similar thoughts.
“It never occurred to me that somebody would come into an established neighborhood and tear a house down, especially one that doesn’t look like it’s in terrible repair,” Grgurich said. “It’s what [the neighbors] always feared, building a ‘McMansion.’”
Grgurich also said he respects that the homeowners have a right to do what they want with their property, but he does not want this to be the first in a series of demolitions to build larger houses that may not go with the neighborhood.
Bob Sissom, who lives nearby on Biggs Avenue, pointed out that homes in his neighborhood are some of the last affordable homes in the city. He worries that if people begin buying them, tearing them down and replacing them with larger, more expensive homes, it could phase out some future buyers.
“Some of these houses are the only thing that adjunct professors at Hood College can afford,” he said. “Some of the houses here are in the low 200s, and that’s kind of rare.”
Alderwoman Kelly Russell, who lives on College Avenue, was also part of the email chain and plans to stand with the neighbors at Thursday’s meeting.
“It’s disheartening to me to see a beautiful home in what I consider an historic neighborhood, even though it may not be designated that way, taken down to build something that I don’t know will be in character with the neighborhood or not,” she said.
“These homes are beautiful,” she added. “I’m disappointed legislatively right now that there’s really no remedy for this action.”
According to the city’s Demolition Review Ordinance, which the Board of Aldermen passed in 2013, the Historic Preservation Commission must review all demolition applications for properties 50 years old or older for individual historic significance. The house was built around 1950, according to property records.
That means the commissioners must find that the property meets the criteria outlined in the city’s Land Management Code for designation of a Historic Overlay District. Such an overlay would require historic preservation employees and historic preservation commissioners to review any exterior changes to the property.
According to the staff report from the June 29 meeting, staff members do not believe the property is an exemplary representation of the historic homes for the period in which it was built.
Matt Davis, the city’s manager of comprehensive planning, said the only way the Historic Preservation Commission can designate the home as historically significant is if a master builder constructed the home, if someone prominent lived there, or something historically significant occurred at the house.
According to the staff report filed for Thursday’s meeting, that is not the case.
The report includes more details regarding previous owners and the history of the property.
Staff members’ research shows that none of the prior owners of the property were “demonstrably important at a local, State or national context,” according to the report.
“A property would not be eligible if it was simply owned or used by a person who is a member of an identifiable profession, class or social or ethnic group,” the report said.