MIDDLETOWN — Town Council solicited feedback on a proposed historic overlay district during a Tuesday public hearing.
A proposed ordinance would establish a Historic Overlay District over 176 parcels primarily located in the central portion of town. The Middletown Historical Society created a historic district that the U.S. Department of the Interior recognized in 2003.
Council member Shayla Rickard explained the ordinance does not include any design standards or regulations or use restrictions for properties. Additionally, the ordinance would not establish any board of architectural review or similar oversight body. Instead, she said the district would simply acknowledge the area’s historic layout.
Furthermore, she said the historic overlay could protect the town from a future widening of Main Street (U.S. 11) — something that could potentially impact property owners along the street.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Eric Bittner explained the historic district was proposed by Councilman Daryl Terrill before his death.
Around the time of March 2020 public input hearings, town residents expressed concern that the district would come with intrusive property maintenance guidelines and the establishment of panels such as a board of architectural review.
The pandemic delayed further deliberation on the matter.
During Tuesday night’s hearing, town resident Sue Teal said she appreciated the “restraint” with which the proposed ordinance was written and admired the attempt to protect town history. While the ordinance seems relatively benign, she feared it could pave the way for a more restrictive ordinance. She also worried that it would place an “unfair burden” on property owners within the historic district compared to residents living outside the historic overlay.
“My great concern is that this ordinance is simply the first step in a progressively more restrictive and intrusive ordinance which will discourage investment in historic properties in our town,” Teal said.
Another town resident, John Carper, said he would like his three West First Street properties to be removed from the proposed overlay.
“I’m in a floodplain, I have enough restrictions now, and I don’t need any more hardships on the property,” Carper said.
The town’s Planning Commission recommended that the council establish the district. While the council intends to do so at a future meeting, they said they would try to accommodate Carper’s request on Tuesday. Former Mayor Ray Steele, who was in the audience, said a new public hearing might be required if the council wants to establish a historic overlay without Carper’s properties.
Also at the meeting, Steele commended Mayor Charles Harbaugh, town staff and parade director Tina Clem for their efforts in planning Middletown’s Fourth of July celebration.
“I had fellas come up to me and say that was almost as good as Apple Blossom,” Steele said. “Because from Lord Fairfax all of the way through town the crowds weren’t just one or two; they were thick.”
Steele also revealed that Harbaugh received a Community Builders Award for his leadership as mayor and contributions to many town projects. The Winchester Masonic Lodge gave the award to Harbaugh Sunday night.
Attending the meeting in the town office at 7875 Church St. were Mayor Charles Harbaugh and council members Caroyln Aliff, Jeff Pennington, Stephanie Mitchell, Scott Fink, Carole Snyder Jones and Shayla Rickard.