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Washington Grove seeks to make ‘threatened’ status official

By Sylvia Carignan | The Gazette,

As new developments close in on Washington Grove, residents of the wooded town are worried about the future of their historic neighborhood.

Washington Grove, home to about 500 people, according to the 2010 Census, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town’s Historic Preservation Commission has asked a state organization to designate it a “threatened” landmark.

“We are seeking support to preserve a town that hasn’t changed much,” said Joli McCathran, a member of the commission.

She said the town’s borders are threatened by road and development construction, especially for a set of apartments on its northwest border. The developer of the apartments, to be called Towne Crest, had to lower the development’s planned density in October as residents fought to preserve the quiet environment near their borders. The developers originally had planned to build 356 apartments on its eight-acre space, more than three times the current number of units on the site.

McCathran said the Towne Crest developer’s application to build a high-density residential area was “the trigger” for the 200-acre town to seek public support.

Washington Grove sent an application to Preservation Maryland, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group that focuses on saving historic landmarks. It chooses about a dozen landmarks for its “Endangered Maryland” list every year.

For 2012, the list included the Cider Barrel in Germantown and Silver Spring Baptist Church. According to Preservation Maryland, it designated the Cider Barrel a threatened landmark because of encroaching development and plans to move the structure from the edge of the roadway.

Preservation Maryland occasionally offers help for the threatened sites it selects, said Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for the organization, although the designation does not afford any legal or regulation-related benefits.

“We will, in some cases, provide some modest funding because we think it’s an important site,” she said.

The communities around the chosen sites mainly benefit from greater public attention, Hayman said, although Preservation Maryland was already familiar with Washington Grove. It supported a state Open Space Legacy designation adjacent to the town in 2005, expressed concern about a CSX bridge project in 2009 and reviewed the possible effects of the Towne Crest apartments this year, she said.

“It seems to be nonstop,” McCathran said. “I’ve lived here some 30 years, and we’re always under threat by development.”

Hayman said the organization’s selection committee has already chosen the sites that will be on its 2013 list, which will be published in Maryland Life magazine in late March.

Although the Endangered Maryland list mostly consists of singular landmarks, “it’s not totally novel” to nominate an entire neighborhood, said Preservation Services Director Marilyn Benaderet of Preservation Maryland.

“We have had large swaths of land like the Superblock that was designated last year,” she said.

The Superblock is a collection of historical buildings on downtown Baltimore’s west side that is under threat of demolition, according to Preservation Maryland.

McCathran said it was never an option to select only part of the town or certain aging areas to make it onto the Endangered Maryland list.

“The entire town is threatened,” she said.

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