UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council sitting at the District Council and the Prince George’s County Planning Board held a joint public hearing on their minor amendment to remove the historical designations of the Old Marlboro Primary School and Old Marlboro High School on Sept. 17 where an overwhelming amount of people were opposed to the change.
The amendment would remove the historical designation of the two schools which are located on 6.7 acres of land on Elm Street in the Town of Upper Marlboro. The resolution was proposed by County Councilmembers Sydney Harrison (District 9) and Derrick Leon Davis (District 6) and discussed by the full council before their August recess.
The council saw the need to reevaluate the designation of the historic sites and the Zoning Ordinance establishes a process where the council can initiate certain minor amendments to an approved functional master plan, according to the resolution. Following approval, the architectural plan would be adjusted to incorporate the historic character of the Town of Upper Marlboro.
According to Thomas Gross, who works in the historic preservation section within the planning department, the two sites were designated in the county’s 2010 Historic Site Plan.
The Old Marlboro Primary School was built in 1896, Gross said in an overview of the amendment at the start of the hearing, and functioned as a school until the high school was built in 1921. After that, it served as a residence for the high school principal. The high school officially closed its doors in the early 1970s.
The cemetery located on the site will remain a site of national importance as it contains the remains of Dr. William Beanes, who was instrumental in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner.
While the cemetery would remain, all protection for the primary school and high school would be removed, Gross said.
Additionally, any proposal to alter the two school buildings or construct a new building would be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission unless the environmental setting of the cemetery is revised to exclude the part of the property where the school buildings currently stand.
According to County Council Chair Todd Turner, the planning board will make a recommendation to the council within 30 days of the hearing, and the council will take their final action in 90 days.
Fifteen people spoke at the meeting, the majority of them against removing the historic designation of the two schools.
“I am concerned. I object to the same body that placed these schools on the historic register and now deciding to remove them. Particularly by using the method of a minor text amendment, not so minor, to do so,” said Town of Upper Marlboro resident Tim Simpson.
Town of Upper Marlboro Commissioners Kai Bernal-LeClaire and Linda Pennoyer came to urge the council to vote against removing the historic designation.
LeClaire pointed out that the county code of ordinances says that a minor amendment is allowed if it advances the goals for which it is altering and that it safeguard the safety, health and welfare of the citizens, both of which, LeClaire said, the council is not following.
He also pointed out that the council has not given a reason for removing the historic designations, a fact that several other speakers also pointed out.
“There is nothing in the resolution which outlines its purpose other than a meaningless ‘well, it’s to remove property’ and I would submit to you that’s not enough as required in your ordinances,” LeClaire said to the council. “You have to explain the purpose, and that has not been done.”
Pennoyer added that removing the historic designations would disrupt the town’s planning efforts. Instead of removing the designations, the Town of Upper Marlboro has instead advocated for adaptive reuse of these buildings within the guidelines of the preservation ordinance, Pennoyer said.
“Our town has given much to the county, and to the court, over the years,” Pennoyer said. “We strongly believe that adaptive reuse for community purposes of these buildings would be the greatest possible outcome.”
Others who spoke at the meeting also advocated for adaptive reuse such as members of the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) who came with a recommendation for the county council following their own public hearing held earlier in the week.
The HPC voted seven to zero to recommend to the county council and planning board that they disapprove the amendment, said HPC Vice-Chair Lisa Davidson.
“And I think the Historic Preservation Commission was concerned about the use of a minor amendment this way and we would really welcome some more discussion of adaptive reuse or other ways to make this a productive part of the community of the Town of Upper Marlboro,” Davidson said.
The last speaker of the night, Al Weaver, urged the council to follow the correct procedure in whatever direction they decide to go with their decision and be transparent with the community.
“I agree with a lot of the points here, putting it in the community and a lot of people here rallying for it to be put in this community. Just like the power plants being put in Brandywine, I’m not into putting heavy uses into communities,” Weaver said.
“Take a look at this, make sure you get everything right, I know we’ll have plenty more shots at this, but let’s bring it through the normal route. Let’s make it end up the normal way.”
Councilmembers were contacted for comment but according to said Public Information Officer Angela Rouson, because the matter is pending a final decision, the record remains open. Therefore, it would be inappropriate at this time for any councilmember to answer questions on this subject matter.