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.