Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction in the information box concerning the time of the meeting that will determine whether the downtown log cabin will be demolished.
Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County staff and supporters continue to wait with bated breath for the outcome of a request to demolish a dilapidated downtown log cabin.
The Historic Preservation Commission determined in a 3-2 vote Thursday that the East Fifth Street cabin contributes to the Frederick Town Historic District, with members Scott Winnette, Carrie Albee and Dan Lawton voting for the contributing designation and Rebecca Cybularz and Chase Tydings voting against it.
The vote was the first of two required for the demolition request. The second vote, on the demolition itself, will take place at the commission’s next meeting based on the requirements set forth in the city’s historic preservation guidelines.
Had the commission voted to designate the cabin a noncontributing resource, members could have voted on the demolition the same night.
The upcoming meeting will mark the third public hearing on the demolition request, which has been the subject of further workshops and discussions since Habitat’s executive director, Ron Cramer, submitted the application last winter. The drawn-out, high-profile case has sparked controversy among city residents and commission members, some supporting and others opposing the demolition.
Bring it down
The majority of the roughly 20 residents who spoke Thursday said they wanted the cabin torn down, citing safety concerns regarding the rapidly crumbling structure.
Dan Stouffer, who lives on the street where the cabin stands, called demolition “the only feasibly and financially sound decision.”
Stouffer said the structure’s collapse was imminent, a statement confirmed by County Councilman Billy Shreve, who broke apart a chunk of log from the cabin he’d brought to the meeting as a “souvenir.”
“I was scared to stand beside it today,” Shreve said.
Commission member Rebecca Cybularz said she also supports the demolition, estimating that no more than 30 percent of the structure was salvageable.
“I can’t see that that’s a historic building anymore,” she said.
Although it won’t remain standing on its own for long, the Rev. Ken Dunnington, Habitat’s president, said he didn’t want to wait for that to happen.
“Habitat is simply not content to simply sit and watch the property turn to dust,” Dunnington said. “We think the community deserves better.”
Some residents agreed the cabin was beyond saving, but said that doesn’t mean the entire site lacks value.
Nancy Geasey, vice president of the Monocacy Archaeological Society, pointed to the archaeological history of the property as potentially significant.
“As archaeologists, we are concerned about what we don’t know about this property, versus what we know,” Geasey said.
Cramer pledged Habitat would allow archaeological review of the site, along with preservation of any salvageable materials from the cabin.
Others suggested the site be repurposed in a way that reflects its historical significance, or perhaps as a public park. Habitat planned to sell the lot to a local builder if the commission granted its demolition request, as previously reported by The News-Post.
Albee, who voted against a contributing designation in the last meeting’s vote, said the history represented by the cabin was worthy of a contributing designation. A report compiled by a private contractor who surveyed the report dates its construction to the turn of the 19th century, and notes its purpose was to house African-American freemen or slaves of the nearby North Court Street mansions.
“I think it touches on several important stories,” Albee said, naming the cabin’s early construction, log building materials and representation of working-class life as three such stories.
Lawton and Winnette agreed that the cabin fit the criteria for a contributing resource, although both said they also supported its demolition.
The waiting game
Stepping outside after the commission’s vote, Cramer and Dunnington debated their next move. Property deed in hand, Dunnington asked Cramer if he should hand the document of property ownership back to the city that night, or wait until the following day.
Although the commission planned to vote on the demolition at its next meeting, Dunnington said he was finished waiting.
“It’s better just to walk away at this point,” Cramer said. “We’d rather it be the city’s watch, not ours.”
“I suppose we’re trying to make a point,” Dunnington added.
But at the urging of other residents and Habitat staff, the pair agreed to hold off until after the vote in two weeks, with plans to turn over ownership if the commission doesn’t approve the demolition.