Frederick News-Post continues to misrepresent the state of the hotel project

The Frederick News-Post (FNP) under new ownership continues its biased and inaccurate reporting of the downtown hotel (DH) project. Its misreporting continues as if the newspaper still has a vested interest in the project as owner of the land to be purchased for the project with taxpayer money.

The dramatic seven/zero vote against the hotel applicants at the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) came at about 10pm, plenty of time for at least a short report on the result (of the kind published by this blog a bit after midnight.)

But the next morning’s edition of the Frederick News-Post had nothing, not a word. Only late afternoon Friday about 20 hours after the vote did a report appear, and in the electronic edition. Readers of the print edition were kept waiting 36 hours to Saturday morning.

After a day and a half delay they got this:

And what a travesty of a report!

The ‘lede’ or lead sentence was: “A building in the middle of the proposed downtown hotel and conference center is a contributing resource to the Frederick Town Historic District, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission agreed.”

There are multiple mistakes here.

1. Hotel proponents have said the (Birely Tannery) building is “in the middle of” the proposed hotel and conference center, sure. In fact it is located in a south- east part of the site, well away from  the middle. Elimination or relocation of the conference center ballroom and a slight offset to the hotel kitchen would allow the Birely Tannery to be preserved.

2. The Historic Preservation Commission did not “agree” with the hotel applicants. The applicants have always claimed that the Birely tannery and site are ‘non-contributing.’ Plamondon’s proposal in response to RFP14J as selected by the City in 2014 stated at page 180: “Based on extensive historical studies already conducted by the Plamondon Development Team, PHP is confident that the buildings to be demolished are ‘non-contributing’ historically, and fully satisfy the criteria in Section 423 of the LMC for demolition.”

The City’s hotel advisory committee accepted the notion that the Birely Tannery building was historically insignificant (layman’s for ‘non-contributing’) and in scoring the two bids gave 2 points out of 2.5 to Plamondon for sensitivity to historic preservation versus one point given to Wormald who was proposing on a site with no historic structure, and nothing to demolish. And the Mayor and Board of Aldermen never questioned the proposition that the site could be cleared of the historic Birely building when they voted to endorse the MOU for the deal at the end of 2015.

HPC17-490 applying for demolition at no point acknowledged the historic importance of the building. The HPC far from agreeing voted unanimously against the applicants’ view that the building and site are historically unimportant.

3. The HPC did not vote merely that the building is “a contributing resource.” They voted unanimously that it was not only a ‘contributing resource’ but that it was ‘a contributing resource of unusual importance.’ There’s a huge difference, and the failure to report it is journalistic malpractice.

The Commission routinely votes that historic building s are ‘contributing’ but it is rare for them to go the extra step and find them of ‘unusual importance.’ Permission to demolish a normal ‘contributing resource’ is difficult but the Land Management Code and the Commission’s Guidelines make demolition very much more difficult, as the staff report laid out, when the target of the demolitionists is formally found to be of ‘unusual importance.’ Such designation lays out new statutory steps and to be followed — obstacles to clear — before the HPC can even vote on demolition.

4. At issue in the vote against the applicants July 13 was not just the Tannery building, the ‘structure’ but the broader site as a valuable archeological trove. This aligned the Commission with state regulators at Maryland Historical Trust. The applicants’ submission like the Frederick News-Post report made no mention of archeology. A full year and hundreds of thousands  of dollars more could be involved in archeological work required as a result of the determination of the site as of unusual importance to history likely to be revealed by a major archeological effort.

The Historic Preservation Commission is likely to treat the archeology of the site as a major issue, but there’s not a hint of that in the FNP report.

5. The FNP report is also generally misleading in its quiet tone which suggests that the hotel project is proceeding normally through a permitting process, exactly the way its promoters like to present it. In fact it faces a very difficult and slow uphill slog against two historic preservation agencies, the City’s HPC, and the state’s Historical Trust, agencies whose core mission is to preserve historic buildings, especially unusually important historic buildings like the Birely tannery.

6. To characterize what is happening now as a “debate on demolition” fails to convey the fact that the Commission is charged by law (the Land Management Code) with exploring every possible avenue for avoiding demolition. It is debating not demolition but ways in which the hotel project can be modified on the basis that the Birely Tannery will not be demolished. The law only allows it to consider demolition after a thorough review and negotiation –‘debate’ — of how the project might be modified and still be financially feasible while preserving an important historic building.

Having decided that the building is historically of unusual importance demolition is for now off the table. That was what was decided July 13.

2017.07.14 modified July 15

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