Elected Officials Hear From Ag Community Regarding Proposed Historic Preservation Overlay

They say it will adversely affect operations & property values at the Fairgrounds.

Frederick, Md. (KM)  There was a lot of opposition expressed Wednesday afternoon during a Board of Aldermen Workshop to a proposed historic preservation overlay for the Frederick Fairgrounds. It would put some extra restrictions on 22-acres of the Fairgrounds’ property.

Joe Devilbiss, the President of the Agricultural Society, says it could affect the very future of the Great Frederick Fair. “If you continue to place this overlay on us, we as owners have to make a decision about do we continue the Fair, or decide we went on long enough and we can’t afford to continue the Fair,” he said.

In his comments, Fair Board member Maurice Gladhill said the Fair is “financially fragile” and has a revenue stream of $3-million a year. He noted that a lot of fairs nationwide have ceased operations because of money problems.

But the city’s historic preservation planner, Lisa Mroszczyk Murphy, said the overlay only requires that a design review for any exterior changes made to some of the buildings at the Fairgrounds. It does not involve “taking” of the property. “What goes on inside the buildings and how the property is used is not impacted by being in the historic preservation overlay,” she said. “It implements a design review process. That’s  all.”

Murphy said that the overlay will only be placed over 22-acres of the property, and include a limited number of buildings, including the caretaker’s house, some restrooms, administrative offices, Grandstand, Household building, 4-H Building and Farmers Market, the Beef Barns and Show Ring and the Racetrack. The Racing Tower and the Stage would not be affected.

“There’s no evidence that there would be a lower property value due to the historic preservation overlay,” Murphy said.

But attorney Ann Rollins, representing the Fair Board, disagreed. “Contrary to staff’s opinion, it does negatively impact the value of the property. It will also negatively impact our ability to operate the property,” she said.

The Historic Preservation Commission on May 12th, approved a resolution recommending the overlay be placed on the Fairgrounds. Fair Board officials say they did not ask for it.

Prior to the hearing, Alderman Michael O’Connor recused himself from the discussions and the vote, saying he has been a lifelong member of the Agricultural Society, and there could be a conflict of interest. He left the room after that.

During their discussion, Aldermen Josh Bokee and Phil Dacey said they were inclined to vote against the overlay at this time. Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said she had not made up her mind yet, but praised the HPC’s efforts to keep historic structures in the downtown. Alderwoman Kelly Russell, who sits on the Planning Commission, said she would prefer a different boundary which did not include the Racetrack. They were even speculating what could happen to the property if the Great Frederick Fair ceased operations.

A hearing on this proposal was scheduled for August 18th, but Mayor Randy McClement noted that some of the Aldermen may not be there. He said he will work to find another date that accommodates Board members.