Greenbelt city officials have crossed a major hurdle in their quest to have a section of their city designated a historic area.
The Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register recently gave provisional approval to listing the older core of Greenbelt in the National Register of Historic Places. If final approval is granted by the federal government next summer, homeowners would become eligible for federal funds to fix up their houses.
Final approval would come from the Department of Interior in May or June, after the state committee again considers the issue in March, said Pamela James, Maryland's National Register coordinator.
City officials seek a listing in the National Register for the prestige as well as for the promise of federal money, said City Council member Richard Pilski.
The council voted a year ago to apply for the historic listing. The old core of Greenbelt comprises about 750 acres of land that made up the city before annexed properties swelled its size to five square miles.
The original parcel of land was developed as a planned community between 1935 and 1937 during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
A forerunner of newer planned communities such as Reston and Columbia, Greenbelt was conceived as an idyllic environment for moderate income families. Brick row houses and apartments were built in clusters, surrounded by trees and park land. Walkways led to stores, a post office and schools.
Husbands commuted through what was then forest and farmland to their jobs in Washington while their wives stayed home. To preserve what federal planners believed to be a wholesome family atmosphere, married women were not permitted to work, said Tom Hauenstein, Greenbelt housing rehabilitation loan specialist.
As many as 5,000 persons were put to work building the federally owned complex. Then residents were carefully selected on the basis of race and religion, Hauenstein said.
No blacks were allowed and planners faithfully reproduced the religious make-up of neighboring Washington -- then 70 percent Protestant, 20 percent Catholic and 10 percent Jewish, Hauenstein said.
There was public resentment of what many called interference in the lives of Greenbelt residents, which finally forced the government to sell the project, Hauenstein said.
Residents united to purchase the community from the federal government, forming Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), with an elected board of directors that still operates.
"It demonstrated unique planning concepts that have been incorporated in Reston and in Columbia," said Wayne Williams, vice president of the GHI board of directors.
The Governor's Consulting Committee agreed that old Greenbelt is historic, but there is a dispute over how much land should be included in the historic area.
A developer, Charles Bressler, wants 123.2 acres of land that he owns on the northwest corner of Greenbelt to be excluded and the committee gave him 60 days to justify the exclusion.
That will mean a second vote by the governor's committee in March before the city's application can go to the Department of the Interior for final approval.The department rarely turns down applications that have won state committee approval, said National Register coordinator James.
It is not clear how much federal money Greenbelt residents could expect to receive with a listing in the National Register. They would be eligible to apply for federal grants and low interest loans to rehabilitate their homes, James said, but there would be a catch.
Approval for any federally funded home renovations would have to come from the Maryland Historical Trust.
That agency already oversees federally funded projects in old Greenbelt because the community is listed in the state's historical register. The agency has held up a $6.4 million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development since October.
The money is to be used to replace outdated furnaces and improve home insulation, said Sandra Barnes, coordinator of member services for GHI.
The Historical Trust quarreled with plans to replace old casement windows with modern ones and to put up new vinyl siding in place of asbestos, Barnes said.
Meanwhile, one Greenbelt homeowner objects to the fact that alterations to purportedly historic homes are routinely approved by the board of directors of Greenbelt Homes, Inc.
John Kendrick, a retired government employe and a city resident for 15 years, complains that the board approves any additions, eroding old Greenbelt's historic significance.
"Greenbelt Homes, Inc. allowed this extremely ugly addition to be put up right alongside of my brick house," Kendrick said. "They've allowed this sort of thing for years."
Bernard J. Block, who is building the simple, one-room, one-story addition on the front of his brick row house, replied, "It's a neighborhood dispute. He doesn't want it (the addition) at all."
Board of directors vice chairman Wayne Williams and GHI acting general manager Ken Kopstein said they could not remember the board rejecting a request to build an addition.
There is rarely controversy over additions, Kopstein said. Additions have been built to enlarge between 12 to 15 percent of the coummity's 1,600 homes.
"My feeling is, the reason Greenbelt is historic is not because of the housing so much as the planning concepts," Williams said.
A listing in the National Register will not affect the right of homeowners to build additions as long as they use their own money.
Approval from the Maryland Historical Trust will continue to be required only for projects involving federal funds, James said.