BG Linden Ave Demo - MP (copy)

Plans for a senior apartment building on a portion of a 13-acre lot are up in the air after the Frederick Board of Aldermen determined that a historic house at 401 Linden Ave., known as the Cramer House, is worth more than just memories.

Plans for a senior housing building on a portion of a 13-acre lot in Frederick are up in the air after the Board of Aldermen determined a historic house standing in the way is worth more than just memories.

The vacant, one-story house at 401 Linden Ave., known as the Cramer House, was initially slated for demolition as part of developer Herman & Kittle Properties’ plans to construct a four-story building with one- and two-bedroom apartments for seniors. But a plea from historic preservation staff members — which members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission backed — to place a historic preservation overlay on the 1930s-era home and surrounding .295-acre property got in the way.

The aldermen voted unanimously on Thursday after a more than two-hour public hearing to place the overlay on the property, on the west side of the city off the Golden Mile stretch of U.S. 40, thus placing myriad restrictions on it that halt the developer’s demolition plans. Dave Willmarth, development director of the Mid-Atlantic region for Herman & Kittle, said in the hearing that the overlay would significantly hinder the senior housing plans.

“It sits literally on top of this house,” he said of the planned building.

Willmarth further explained that the overlay would force the developer to redo the plans, which have been in the works for about a year, and could jeopardize the project’s ability to receive state tax credits needed to bring it to fruition.

Anne Rollins, a local attorney representing the developers and the homeowner, also hinted in the hearing that her camp may file an appeal to an overlay.

Both Willmarth and Rollins declined to comment after the hearing on their plans or project status, though.

“My company has a lot of decisions to make,” Willmarth said, briefly.

The arguments both to preserve and to tear down the house at Thursday’s hearing were compelling, according to the aldermen.

Historic Preservation Planner Christina Martinkosky presented pages of research as evidence of the home’s historic integrity due to its roots, construction, and the possibility that it was used as a “cure cottage” for the owner, Helen C. Cramer, who they believe had tuberculosis.

Cure cottages were built in the early 20th century to accommodate tuberculosis patients. They had access to fresh air and sunshine — said to help treat the illness — via large porches known as “cure porches.”

Martinkosky’s research shows that local businessman and restaurateur Ammon Cramer, Helen’s husband, received a permit to build the one-story house in 1936 for $5,500.

The Cramer House was also likely a prefabricated E.F. Hodgson Company house. Staff members argued that the homes were relatively rare compared with other types of prefab homes and the company was known to construct cure cottages.

Martinkosky also argued that the house still possesses many of its original features.

Rollins, the local attorney, and homeowner Brent Cramer, who had traveled from Texas to testify on Thursday, told a different story.

Their research showed that the house was likely not used as a cure cottage due to the notion that the alleged cure porch was added in later years, after Helen Cramer’s death. Rollins and Cramer also challenged whether Helen Cramer had tuberculosis, and presented evidence that even if she did, she likely did not die from it. They also argued that E.F. Hodgson Company homes were ubiquitous during the time period.

The condition of the house was presented as a reason to tear it down as well. Brent Cramer said the house has been vacant for 15 years and has fallen into disrepair. He said he and his family members opted not to perform maintenance on it during that time because the plan was always to demolish it.

Cramer and Rollins said the house’s presence on the property brings down its overall value, which they argued as another reason to allow the demolition.

The arguments were not enough to sway the elected officials, though.

The four aldermen who attended Thursday’s hearing agreed that the decision was a tough one, especially given the plans for the senior housing project. Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak was absent.

“I am for property rights, but the case before us is historic preservation. The evidence and the testimony regarding the historic preservation far outweighs [the other] side,” Alderman Derek Shackelford said. “I understand the project is senior housing, but I don’t think historic preservation gets in the way of that. I think there’s ways that [the house] can be included.”

The developers are also required to obtain a zoning change to build the senior apartment building, which was running parallel to the historic preservation overlay process.

Martinkosky has also said that the house’s presence on the property is not a deal-breaker for development. She pointed out that the house is in the middle of 13 developable acres and is eligible for grant funding for restoration.

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter:

@MalloryPanuska.

(14) comments

Frayou

Just don’t understand rational of Historic & Government leaders. A property is allowed to sit empty and idle for years while deteriorating until property is sold. Then new owner wants to demolish and upgrade or redevelop, but is stopped due to dilapidated property having suspected historic significance. Doesn’t seem right. Bet if city wanted to approve hotel or conference center officials would have no problem approving demolition, with a conditional of a special plaque commemorating the suspect historical significance?

KellyAlzan

And yet the old FNP building is slated to be molested......

Priscilla

Honestly, go forth with real housing for seniors who desperately need it. Poor decision by the Aldermen.

nbouqu1

You want Bethesda levels of overdevelopment? Or Northern Virginia? Keep complaining about the HPC stopping developers.

shiftless88

There are good reasons to stop some development (overcrowded schools or overstretched utilities, for example) but designating an old crappy house as "historic" isn't one of them.

Dwasserba

Pick an alderman now to move in with for when the time comes.

dcmetro

One of the problems I see in designating some of these properties as "historical" is that the owners are responsible for the upkeep, but according to the historical group's demands. If I was the developer of the senior housing project, I would pull out of the deal based upon the change from the plan they originally sought. Some of these properties remain eyesores for years because few people are interested in the high cost of maintaining the demands set by a select chosen few. An example of that is an eyesore in Urbana on the former Cracked Claw/Peter Pan property. I don't know if the historical designation is overseen by the same group, but the property has been sitting as nothing more than a mere shell since the non-historical portion of the property was torn down 7 years ago.

Crusty Frederick Man 64

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES. Historic Preservation Commission-Planning Commission- Board of Aldermen. TO MUCH POWER AND NO COMMON SENSE.

CDReid

I agree, those people have way too much power. While I would like to see the house preserved, I don't think it should be their decision, it should be the developer's, prompted by financial incentives.

gardenwhimsey

The house could be used as an activity center for the senior housing development.

CDReid

I agree, and that was my suggestion in my comment of July 13th. I think seniors would really like it, I know I would.

shiftless88

CD; then buy it yourself

jamesnee

Please keep me updated as to when the Board will have the first open house there; in order that we all can understand the suggested historic value. I live in a house built in 1925 from timber and rocks found on the property and am very interested in historic grant funding for it as well. Sadly, I've already removed the historic 1970's orange shag carpeting: I maintain that, though the carpeting would now be historic, it was not walked on by the original home owner.

LeonardKeepers

this is ridiculous the aldermen then should be made to pay for the upkeep and repair of the property out of their oen pockets for the fore see able future.

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