The “Railroad Square Project” is a proposed mixed-use (commercial and residential) project that would impact a critical section of downtown Brunswick. The project would create 46 affordable housing units and 15,000 square feet of retail/ office space along West Potomac Street. It is important to distinguish that there are two elements of the project: one element that will create affordable housing units and will be applying for low income housing credits through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) (find out more about the tax credits HERE), and a second element that would create retail space along West Potomac Street which will not be included in the tax credit proposal. To learn more about the project please refer to the web link HERE and continue to monitor it for any changes.
In this post, Brunswick Main Street will be focusing on the first element of the project (the properties included in the low income housing tax credit application). The current plan, would involve the restoration of 1 South Maple Ave (2-4 W Potomac Street) also known as the “Mommer’s building” and the removal/ demolition of the remaining buildings (5 S Maple Ave, 9 S Maple Ave, Karn’s Building on S Maryland Ave). Brunswick Main Street is not an authority on deeming properties to be historically significant or not. Therefore, we asked three relevant historical authorities for their expert opinions:
Local historian, author, and President of the Brunswick Potomac Foundation (operators of the Brunswick Heritage Museum) James Castle finds that each of the properties in question bear historic merit. Castle supports his findings in a paper he has written in this document “RR Square“.
Maryland’s oldest preservation organization, Preservation Maryland, is dedicated to advocacy, outreach and education, and funding preservation efforts throughout the state. Preservation Maryland largely defines historically significant properties based upon their inclusion in the National Register (HERE and HERE). They believe in the purpose of historic districts; there is value in the collective presence of multiple buildings of historic nature which compose a historic streetscape. Preservation Maryland references the following studies: “Brunswick, Maryland Downtown Revitalization Study” (1985 Downtown Revitilization Study (1)) from the University of Maryland School of Architecture recommends the demolition of the Karn’s Building (located on S Maryland Ave) in favor of a new shopping complex, “The Historic Resource Study of Brunswick, Maryland” (brunswick-historic resource study (1)) by Edward D. Smith of the Historic Preservation Team of the National Park Services does not refer to any of the buildings in question, and finally the “ ‘Rooted deeply in our past’: A landscape history of Brunswick, Maryland” (Rooted deeply in our past_ A landscape history of Brunswick Ma (1)) by Alyssa R. Fisher of James Madison University does refer to the role of the Karn’s Building in Brunswick’s development but does not refer to any of the other buildings in question. These studies add additional context to the Railroad Square Project.
Finally, The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) is the state agency dedicated to preserving and interpreting the legacy of Maryland’s past. As Maryland state agencies, the MHT and the DHCD work closely together. To identify historically significant properties, MHT uses two main tools: the National Register (HERE and HERE), and the period of significance (which for Brunswick is 1890-1930). Using these tools, MHT finds the following:
- 1 South Maple Ave – Listed on the National Register – therefore historically significant.
- 5 South Maple Ave – Listed on the National Register, built in 1789 (not during the period of significance) – therefore historically significant.
- 9 South Maple Ave – Listed on the National Register, built in 1787 (not during the period of significance) – therefore historically significant
- Karn’s Building on South Maryland Ave – Listed on the National Register, built in 1787 (not during the period of significance) – therefore historically significant.
In summary, most historical authorities therefore find that the properties in question are historically significant to Brunswick.
However, this raises a few questions:
Can the low income tax credits be awarded to a project that includes an intention to demolish historically significant buildings?
As earlier stated, the MHT and DHCD work very closely together. If the tax credits are awarded, the National Historic Preservation Act becomes applicable to the project. This Act, in section 106, is the primary federal law regarding review of federal projects for effects on historic preservation. The Maryland Historical Trust Act of 1985 as amended, State Finance and Procurement Article §§ 5A- 325 and 5A-326 of the Annotated Code of Maryland, is the applicable state law. You can find out more about these Acts HERE.
In short, a Section 106 review of the effects as they relate to historic preservation will occur. A Section 106 review ensures that preservation values are factored into federal/state agency planning and decisions. Because of Section 106, federal/state agencies must assume responsibility for the consequences of the projects they carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties and be publicly accountable for their decisions.
A Section 106 review would require the developer (in this case Verdant Development Group) to make its case to MHT and the DHCD and consulting parties. It also requires that the public be given opportunities to share their view points on the historic merit of the properties in question. Consulting parties in this review can include local governments, advisory councils on historic preservation, state preservation officers, and other relevant organizations that the state agency approves. To learn more about Section 106 and the review, please click here: CitizenGuide2015v4-spreads layout
Ultimately, the Section 106 review outcome will be determined by the DHCD and the MHT. The outcome may still include the demolition of the properties in question or it may call for a new plan to be established. Mitigation will also be factored in to the outcome of the review.
Where does Brunswick Main Street stand with all of this?
Brunswick Main Street is part of the Maryland Main Street program, which is housed under the DHCD. Therefore, Brunswick Main Street supports all of the decisions made by the DHCD and MHT in regards to this project. Brunswick Main Street advocates for an early Section 106 review so that a meaningful review can occur. We believe in the power of development and in the merit of historic preservation. While this blog post addresses the historic value of the buildings involved in the Railroad Square Project, Brunswick Main Street will need to determine, as information becomes available, its stance on other aspects of this project
 This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. Moreover, in referencing the works of James Castle, he is not agreeing to the views expressed by any other organization referenced in this text.
 This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. Moreover, in referencing the works provided by Preservation Maryland, the organization is not agreeing to the views expressed by any other organization referenced in this text.
 This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. Moreover, in referencing the process of the Maryland Historical Trust, the organization is not agreeing to the views expressed by any other organization referenced in this text