Homeowner fights to keep house off historic preservation list

By Raenard Weddington
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

For the second time in six years, a nine-acre Cockeysville estate has been placed on Baltimore County’s Preliminary Landmarks List even though its owner doesn’t want it there.

The 165-year-old house at 29 Ashland Road was recently nominated by the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County because of its perceived historical value.

But Christopher Cromwell, who has lived in the house off and on for nearly 65 years, said the nomination was made without his knowledge or consent.

He said he does not want his house on the landmarks list because he does not believe it has historic significance, adding that it would prevent him from making changes and improvements to the building.

“These historic preservation laws they have in Baltimore County are inherently unfair,” Cromwell said. “Any third party can nominate any property for any reason or no reason, and that’s what’s happened to me twice now. This time around I know I was targeted.”

The Baltimore Watchdog tried unsuccessfully to contact officials with the county’s preservation alliance.

Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said the preservation laws are needed to ensure that the county maintains its history. She said county officials are always trying to balance the needs of the owners of historic homes with the preservation of historical structures.

“It’s very important to retain the county’s historical legacy,” Kobler said. “We have a number of unique communities and Baltimore County played a pivotal role in some of America’s history throughout the years. Like so many things in government and in life there’s a balance that needs to be struck.”

Christopher Cromwell is fighting to keep his 165-year-old house off of the county's landmark preservation list. Photo by Raenard Weddington.

Christopher Cromwell is fighting to keep his 165-year-old house off of the county’s landmark preservation list. Photo by Raenard Weddington.

When a home is nominated for historical preservation, homeowners must speak before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to explain why it should be removed from the preliminary list.

If the commission  does not agree to take the house off the preliminary list, the nomination moves to the County Council, which has 90 days to make a final decision on a property’s landmark status.

If the council does not act on the proposed nomination within that period, then the property is removed from the preliminary list and cannot be nominated again for three years.

Kobler said once a house is put on the landmark list, homeowners are forbidden from making exterior changes without approval from the LPC.

This is the second time in six years that Cromwell has been fighting against his house being included on the landmark list. In August 2010, the Ashland Community Association nominated the home, saying it had ties to both the Civil War and the Cockey family.

Cromwell won that fight but said his house was nominated again almost immediately after the three-year grace period had expired.

“It’s like almost exactly three years later I got nominated again,” Cromwell said.

Associations that have attempted to preserve the home assert that the property, formerly known as Melrose Farm, is valuable because the founding Cockey family built the home and because confederate soldiers once inhabited the land during the war, Cromwell said.

An “indirect” descendant of the founding Cockey family himself, Cromwell questions the historical value of the property.

“Its disputable how historic the actual property itself is,” Cromwell said. “Just because confederate soldiers marched through here, I mean, that could be any property around here.”

He said the home has been changed substantially and that there have been additions made to the house that, in his opinion, diminish the historical value of the house itself.

“The house really isn’t that historic,” Cromwell said. “I’m not going to deny that this house has historical significance, but the thing is, its been changed around so much that its not the same thing it originally was.”

Cromwell feels that his rights as a property owner are being forcibly compromised. He said the house’s historical significance is almost immaterial, as entities can nominate houses for ulterior purposes.

He said that the LPC told him that the nomination would increase the property value, but he thinks otherwise.

“Some people don’t want to have anything to do with a historical house,” Cromwell said. “You’re limiting the people that would buy it and therefore limiting the value. I see the value going down.”

The Ashland Homeowners Association, formerly called The Ashland Community Association, was the first association to nominate the house, including the entire surrounding property. The PABC nominated the house and 5 feet of surrounding land.

Cromwell said The Ashland Homeowners Association’s motivations for nominating his residence three years prior was to prevent him from making exterior alterations to the house and selling it.

The Ashland Homeowners Association did not return phone calls and voicemails for comment.

“I know that they did not nominate this property for any historic reasons,” Cromwell said. “Their concern was that I might sell the property or develop it or something like that.”

Cromwell has an extensive personal connection to his home, which was built in the mid 1800s.

“I grew up in this house,” Cromwell said. “I will be 65 this year and I’ve lived here on and off for 65 years. When my mother became ill, me and my wife moved back in and when she passed away we moved in permanently.”

Cromwell said that while fighting the nominations has cost him money that he doesn’t have and has given him notoriety he doesn’t want, he insists that he doesn’t “hate” the LPC members and understands that they’re just doing their jobs. He just wants the council to create legislation that keeps this from happening again.

“I just want them to do the right thing,” Crowell said.

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