The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission voted last week to table a proposal to grant the Falkland Apartments historic landmark status.
Mike Kopp, a member of the Falkland Tenants Association, is seeking the special, protected status for the property even as its owners are accepting bids from potential buyers. Representatives of the owners appeared before the commission to argue against the proposal.
Kopp began researching the proposal in September at the request of the Falkland Tenants Association which plans to vote soon whether to support the formal application for historic status.
The commission's chairwoman, Eileen McGuckian, said the matter would not be "pushed under the rug." She said she hopes to place the application on the agenda by the end of this year.
"I think we owe it to all parties involved to make a decision on the case one way or another," McGuckian said.
Once a property is designated a historic landmark, which is done by placing it on the Historic Preservation Master Plan of Montgomery County, no major change can be made in its buildings or environmental setting without a special permit from the commission.
Speaking before the commission, Kopp cited four major reasons for seeking the special status: 1) the prominence of the architect, Louis Justement; 2) the Colonial Revival architecture; 3) Falkland's being one of the first 10 "garden apartment" complexes built in the United States and 4) the successful use of natural features in the landscaping.
Two agents of the B.F. Saul Management Co. attended the meeting as representatives of the owners, the Falkland Company Limited Partnership, which currently is accepting bids on the 42-year-old, 485-unit apartment complex.
"I see this [application] as a premeditated way around redevelopment. You're talking about a multimillion-dollar investment," argued John Sexton, vice president of B.F. Saul.
"Frankly, I think this commission is being set up," Sexton concluded.
Sexton's accusations drew immediate and varied response from the nine commissioners.
"This is a great departure from what this commission considers; you're taking a prime investment property and freezing it," said Commissioner F. Moran McConike.
"Oh, there's no question about it. It's unusually well-designed and a well-planned community, and there's certainly no question that it's the only one of its kind in the area," he continued.
Even more cautious was commissioner Bruce Lane, who said, "I hesitate to get this commission involved in such a controversial issue."
Another member commented that several important historical features mentioned in Kopp's application may indeed establish the historical significance of the 27-acre complex.
All the commissioners agreed that Kopp's report was well-researched and presented, necessitating close study of Falkland's historic value for the first time.
There was unanimous agreement among the commissioners that the application should be considered on its merits, and that the tenant-landlord dispute should have no bearing on their final decision.
The motion to delay action, which passed unanimously, allows the chairwoman to place the matter back on the agenda when she feels the commissioners, Falkland's owners and Kopp have had time to review the application.
According to Craig Gerhart, executive secretary to the commission, owners are usually given a month's notice before their property is scheduled to be considered for the Master Plan.
Gerhart noted that the owners of Falkland had been given only a week's notice of the agenda meeting. He said he felt they should be allowed more time to prepare any statements they might want to make to the commission.