TAKOMA PARK – The novelist and philosopher George Santayana is credited with the saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” According to historical preservation advocates, the state government’s failure to commemorate important heritage sites could condemn Marylanders to a wide swath of negative consequences.
At a town hall meeting at Historic Takoma Park on Saturday, Nicholas Redding, director of Preservation Maryland, outlined the key issues at stake in the effort to preserve and increase historical preservation funding.
“We need to be sure that we don’t describe our issues as a niche issue or as something that’s just nice to have,” Redding said. “Our issues are integral to community development; they are integral to creating the kinds of sustainable communities that people want to move into.”
Redding said there was a “disconnect” between Maryland voters, who have repeatedly indicated in polls that they support funding for heritage sites and elected officials who fail to vote for such funding. He noted that in 1969, the General Assembly had created Program Open Space, under which a small percentage of the tax paid on every property purchase in the state is put into a fund set aside for the preservation of open spaces and historical sites.
“Since 1969, the General Assembly and many governors have treated this like a little piggy bank,” Redding said. They have dipped into it and taken out $1 billion that was promised to the people to be spent on preservation and instead spent it on various pet projects throughout Maryland.”
Redding referred to Del. Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, as “a particularly difficult legislator to talk to about these issues.”
Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director of the American Farmland Trust, echoed Redding’s statements.
“Woods and trails are not only beautiful and historic; they provide food and watershed protection,” Baird said. “These are not frills. They provide a lot of economic benefits.”
Baird described Program Open Space as “a masterpiece of visionary, cooperate legislation,” but said that “Governor Ehrlich wiped it clean. Governor O’Malley was great about it for many years, but towards the end of his time in office, he dipped into it, too.”
Noting that the current proposed budget makes significant cuts to preservation funds, Baird urged attendees to sign a petition to restore funding for historic preservation at www.partnersforopenspace.org.
Redding said that his organization and other historical preservation societies would work to make the public desire for heritage funding known in the coming session. He urged attendees to write to their legislators and speak to them in person whenever possible.
Sarah Rogers, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, said that when the assembly considers cuts to preservation funding, the stakes are very high for Montgomery County.
“Montgomery County has set the bar pretty high,” Rogers said. “We have the Ag Reserve, 93,000 protected acres that are always under threat from development or building projects. They see one thing, preservationists see another. Montgomery County is very much in danger of losing the character and fabric of its heritage sites.” Rogers praised Redding’s efforts and expressed optimism that a concerted effort to preserve heritage funding in Montgomery County would inspire others throughout the state.
“We’re a county that has resources; we can be the example,” Rogers said.