The proposed demolition of one of Montgomery County's oldest brick houses -- the Horace Waters house on Waters Road in Germantown -- will be the subject of a public hearing tonight before the county's Historic Preservation Commission.
The Federal-style brick house, built between 1787 and 1790, was occupied by the Waters family for more than 170 years, according to county records. It was bought in 1962 by developers planning major subdivisions north of Gaithersburg.
The house and an equally old fieldstone dairy building were vandalized in the late l960s, but a restoration architect who surveyed the house in 1972 concluded it was in "very sound condition" despite the vandalism, according to the Maryland Historic Trust.
The house was being considered at that time for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, but was never nominated, a trust official said.
Since then, vandals have stolen much of the woodwork from the house and even used pick axes to rip up flooring, knock out window and door frames and break down small rear sections of the handsome Flemish bond brick walls. A tree recently fell, destroying the front porch, one of several Victorian additions to the building.
The Waters house was one of 61 historic buildings placed on the county's original historic preservation master plan, adopted by the county in 1979. If the preservation commission recommends demolition, it will be the first time in its two-year history that it has made such a recommendation concerning a structure on the preservation master plan.
If the commission denies the demolition request, the developer could appeal that decision to the circuit court.
An official of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development who acts as a staff official for the historic preservation commission said earlier this week the county would not take a position on the demolition before the meeting. However, the official, Cindy Donner, described the Waters house as being "in bad condition . . . in ruins."
Commission Chairman Eileen McGuckian said, "It's a very grand house, one of the very few brick Federal-style farm houses in the county. But in my judgment it's pretty far gone, although anything is restorable."
The Prudential Insurance Co. two years ago took over development of a 4,000-house section of the Churchill Town Sector. The "Waters Landing" subdivision within that sector includes the Waters house.
"We've tried to protect the building while everybody decides what to do," said Ronald O'Neill, Prudential's director of real estate investment. The Churchill Town Sector is a development comparable to Montgomery Village and will have about 8,000 homes when developers complete its various sections.
Previous developers had planned to restore the Waters house and use it as a recreation or arts center, O'Neill said. "But it would cost at least $300,000 to restore, and we've just built a $900,000 recreation center," he added. That new recreation center opened two weeks ago about 200 yards from the Waters house.
The house also is about 200 yards away, in the other direction, from the Germantown Country Club. "We'd gladly give the house to the county if they want it," O'Neill said.
"We put a chain-link fence around the house last year and patched the roof," project manager James Flood said during a tour of the property this week. "But it's in bad shape. I'd hate to see it go, but you have to be practical."
One category the Waters house could be considered under, but hasn't been so far, McGuckian said, is "demolition by neglect." The historic preservation ordinance provides that when property has deteriorated to a point imperiling its preservation, as a result of "willful neglect, purpose or design," the commission may direct county officials to take action. After a public hearing, the commission could even require repairs to the building.
The public hearing will be held tonight at 8 o'clock in the second floor conference room of the executive office building in Rockville.