When the Maryland legislative committees were presented with local bills to fund the Frederick downtown hotel project excluding further Maryland Historical Trust review, red flags should have arisen throughout the state to stop such an end run around the normal historical review process.
The public deserves to see its guarantees of historical protections intact to protect its interest in managing historical sites and adaptive projects around the state.
While the city government in Frederick appears fully prepared to continue with a normal internal historic process, as promised by the mayor, its review contains potential faults, such as the easily approved demolition of the Birely tannery by its own rules, which throws out all other competing historic considerations for a special economic project.
We mislead the public when we suggest that economic development is not possible without removing historic fabric. The whole point of a process of historic review is to accurately weigh economic concerns against potential preservation of historic fabric.
The trust also provides a broader perspective on issues of historic concern and actual data on known resources such as archaeological sites. They are the best resource for this expertise.
Every community with a grand project plan is going to feel that a local vision outweighs other interests, and the political pressure to respond to project proponents and investment funding is great. It is difficult to vote no on anything that seems to have a positive impact on a community. But additional inputs of state taxpayer money should require a broader project appeal and approval.
The length of public planning and review on this type of development, especially with a public-private partnership, makes an accurate and reasonable assessment difficult as well, because decisions have been made step by step across multiple elected boards, with varying information and agreements proffered and positions have already been taken that have stopped further debate and questions about large portions of the impacts.
If historic review is impeded, a potential Pandora’s box is unleashed, why not also environmental and fiduciary reviews? Why not regulations on contracts and requisition? State policy needs to be determined by the entire state Legislature, not local courtesy approvals.
It is not a policy choice that should be allowed on any level. Time for the entire state to wake up to this danger and pass legislation ensuring appropriate state reviews remain extant on every project.