Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Historic area gets official nod

Exterior changes to homes now have to be approved by local committee

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Following more than a year of debate, the Prince George’s District Council approved College Park’s appeal for the designation of its Old Town College Park Historic District.

The designation ensures that when people make changes to historic houses, they remain compatible with the character of the neighborhood, said City Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist.3), who worked on getting the designation before joining the City Council.

The district is made up of Calvert Road, Columbia Avenue, Yale Avenue and the University of Maryland, College Park as its boundaries.

The area was designated a Historic District by the county’s Historic Preservation Commission in 2006, but College Park officials appealed the decision, disagreeing on conditions established by the county examiner such as not including non-contributing properties, said city planner Elisa Vitale.

The District Council unanimously approved the appeal 8-0 at its meeting Monday.

‘‘This is exciting for us as it’s been something the city has been working on for a number of years,” Vitale said. ‘‘The idea of creating a local district has been around since the 1970s.”

The designation effort began in 1981 when the county first included Old Town on a list of potential historic districts. The current effort began in 1996 when the city, at the request of the Old Town Civic Association, asked the county planning department to conduct a historic survey of the old town neighborhood.

Residents and civic associations lobbied for the designation to protect homes created during the late 1800s and early 1900s and University of Maryland, College Park fraternity and sorority houses built during the 1930s and 1960s.

‘‘In historic districts, you’re trying to maintain the look, feel and ambience,” Vitale said.

Under the new guidelines, people who want to perform extensive renovations such as demolition or additions to their exteriors have to submit an application to the local advisory committee.

‘‘People wanted to live in a neighborhood that had old Victorians and Colonial houses,” Stullich said. ‘‘It’s all about trying to protect the historic character that we love about our neighborhood.”

Nigel Key, Old Town Civic Association president, said residents had long supported the measure and were excited that it was finally complete.

‘‘This is great news. It’s something that’s been in the works since 1986 through surveys and different kinds of votes,” Key said. ‘‘I moved to Old Town in 2000 and have been attending meetings for the last five years, making a lot of trips to Upper Marlboro to testify.”

Stullich credited the residents’ grassroots effort in getting the designation approved.

‘‘People ... see problems that hopefully the designation will prevent in the future — housing owned by absentee investors who are sometimes more concerned with cramming more people into housing and not what they look like,” Stullich said.

County Councilman Eric Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park said the designation sets up a process and guidelines for the district.

‘‘Old Town College Park has a unique neighborhood with significant houses, architecture including fraternity and sorority buildings. Craftsmen housing that are worth preserving and protecting. This will help protect that architectural integrity of the neighborhood.”

Olson rescued himself from the vote, as he had been involved in the process during his tenure on the City Council before joining the County Council.

E-mail Jeffrey K. Lyles at jlyles@gazette.net.