Calvert County Times April 20, 2017 - Page 5

Thursday, April 20, 2017 The Calvert County Times Local News Locust Inn Remains on Life Support 5 By Dick Myers Staff Writer The Locust Inn in Solomons is on shaky ground. At an April 11 joint plan- ning commission/county commissioners public hearing, there was no support for saving it among the members of those two panels. The planners voted unanimously for allowing the property’s Historic Dis- trict designation to be removed and thus demolishing it. And, all four of the com- missioners in attendance supported that as well. But when the time came for them to finalize the decision, they decided instead to have staff prepare a report first. Perhaps just one glimmer of hope from the history- minded citizens who spoke in an effort to save it. According to an earlier staff report: “A number of inns were built in Calvert County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as tourists began to come for recreation to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers in increas- ing numbers. The Locust Inn is the oldest known surviving example in Solomons, and rare survivor from that period in the entire county.” It was built in 1886. Property owner PAR Limited Partner- ship was denied a demolition permit last year and then the Historic District Com- mission denied a request to remove the property’s Historic District designation. The owners reportedly told county staff before they purchased the property for $850,000 that they intended to demol- ish it. Staff told them at the time that it couldn’t be demolished because of the historic designation. Despite those asser- tions, the property was purchased without PAR being able to inspect inside, accord- ing to Jeannie Cousineaux-Stone, with the company that owns several Stoney’s seafood restaurants. She told the plan- ning commission that they had intended to save the building but its restoration was too expensive. Before there was even public testimony, all four of the commissioners in atten- dance spoke bluntly about the futility of saving the building. Annapolis Attorney Steve Oberg, representing the property owners, said he was not sure he could state his case any better than the commission- ers had in their statements. Commissioner Vice President Evan Slaughenhoupt, Jr. said the county’s His- toric District Commission erred in 1988 in putting the property in an historic district. He said comparing photos from 1988 it didn’t look anything like the photos from the 1920’s when the property was in its prime as a tourist inn. “The building was falling apart,” was the way Slaughenhoupt described what he saw in the 1988 photo. With all of the changes to it and the rav- ages of time, Commissioner Pat Nutter said, “It doesn’t look like the same place.” Commissioner Mike Hat said of the ex- isting structure, “I don’t know what some- one would do with it.” Historic Preservation Planner Kirsti Uunila disagreed. She said the build- ing was structurally sound and could be restored to its former glory. She emphasized that the owner could remove some of what had been added to the back of the house to make it better suited as a water- front venue for the new owner. President of the Historic Dis- trict Commission Tom Dugan agreed with Uunila. He told the commissioners, “Your drive-by assessment of the building is in- correct. It is structurally sound.” Chris Banks, on the Calvert County Historical Society board, noted that a building’s dilapidated condition isn’t nec- essarily an indication of whether it can be restored. She is a docent at the Wallville School, which she said has been restored and made a local gem. She said a picture in the school from before the restoration showed its previous poor condition. “If you remove this, you remove the last vestige of the steamboat guest inn era,” said Ralph Eshelman, former executive director of the Calvert Marine Museum. Eshelman was a recipient from the county commissioners of an Historic Preserva- tion Service and Education Award. Oberg, the only person speaking in support of removing the Historic District designation, said, “It’s historic value has been removed.” He added, “It’s a danger. It’s an eyesore.” Uunila said there has been only one re- quest to remove an Historic District desig- nation since the program was initiated by the county in 1974, and that was denied. The program currently has 92 properties on the list. After listening to the public testimony, the planning commission unanimously voted to recommend removal of the His- toric District designation for Locust Inn. Chairperson Carolyn McHugh said, “I don’t think there are any winners here.” Planning commission member Steve Jones, who had visited the property before the meeting, suggested the county inves- tigate ways to require property owners in Historic Districts to maintain their his- toric character. Since the commissioners did not meet on Tuesday, April 18, their next opportu- nity to address the issue will be at their April 25 meeting, with those supporting the retention of Locust Inn holding out hope that they will change their minds. NEW THIS YEAR: Pickleball, Zumba and Tai Chi Demos! 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