Training for Historic Preservation Commissions: Part Two

Posted on: March 19th, 2013 by Preservation Leadership Forum Staff
St. Michaels, MD Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

St. Michaels, MD | Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

Read Part One or Part Three.

Last week we brought you the first in a three-part series about an online and onsite training program for local preservation commissioners developed by the Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions (MAHDC). We all know that training is a good thing, but unless participants actually take what they have learned and apply it to their work, then even the best training can be wasted. Luckily the MAHDC’s training program has appeared to meet its mark. In Part Two of the series, we talked to one participant about what he learned and how it has influenced his work.

Alan Meyers is a principal in the firm A.R. Meyers & Associates Architects, Inc., AIA, located in Silver Spring, Md. A member of the American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, he also serves on the Historic District Commission of St. Michaels, Md. He has been vice chairman of the State of Maryland Architectural Review Board and a director of the American Institute of Architects Potomac Valley Chapter.His firm works on a variety of projects, including some historic renovation.

Meyers explains that he has always had an intense interest in history and archeology, noting “that the history and related structures of various past epochs have always fascinated me.” But when he volunteered to serve on the historic district commission for St. Michaels, a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he had no concept of the complexities that went with this position.

Since then, he has learned a lot. Meyers says, “Over the past five years, I have gained a significantly better understanding of historic preservation. The various buildings put before us for review, of course, are our major consideration. But each case must also be viewed in light of its landscape, site location, adjacent structures, and of course the neighborhood context. These are always significant background considerations. This comprehensive review of each proposal is essential, in order to have a clear understanding of each case.”

In the summer of 2012 Meyers attended two on-site MAHDC trainings on law/ethics and design for commissioners. He says that the architectural and legal issues discussed in these workshops provided helpful insights for the deliberations of the commissions and that “the application of this information certainly has given me a deeper understanding of the various approaches to preservation.”

Meyers is the only architect on the St. Michaels commission, and he explains that his technical design background gives him a different perspective from that of other commissioners. He says, “I often find that I differ with the strict, ‘lawyerly’ interpretations of the [Secretary of the Interior’s] guidelines. Even on the basis of the written word, there is frequently room for interpretation. The practical side of many issues deserves consideration along with the strict interpretation. Often the discussion of these varying viewpoints enhances the HDC members’ understanding of the issues involved.”

As noted in last week’s post, one of the goals of the MAHDC training programs was to bring the training to the commissioners. As such, MAHDC conducted invitational-only “train the trainer” sessions that resulted in eight to ten MAHDC certified instructors trained to teach the course.

Next week, in the final part of the series, find out more about the trainers and their experiences with the program.