- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

NEW MARKET, Md. - Take a good look at New Market, the “Antiques Capital of Maryland.” It is about to change. For 25 years, local zoning rules have prohibited virtually any new stores except antiques shops inside homes from opening in the six-block historic district. It made the Frederick County town of 427 a Mid-Atlantic magnet for those drawn to things old, quaint or collectible.

But over time, some dealers retired, and shoppers increasingly found bargains over the Internet or at antique malls closer to home. Membership in New Market’s Antiques Dealers Association has dwindled from 41 to 25, while residential development in the surrounding countryside has boomed.

This spring, the Town Council likely will adopt zoning revisions allowing bookstores, bakeries, florists and art galleries to open downtown. Blacksmiths and other artisans also would be able to hang their shingles on the Victorian, federal and colonial buildings, and specialty eateries such as coffee shops and delicatessens would be allowed.

Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III expects 4-1 approval when the proposed rules come up for a vote, perhaps next month. He said the changes are past due in a community long preoccupied by nitpicking squabbles over the rules of commerce.

“If the mayor’s job is not bigger than to go around with a clipboard, critiquing everybody’s antiques, then we’ve got problems, because there are bigger issues in the world,” said Mr. Burhans, 39, a cabinetmaker elected in 2001 on a platform promising change.

His predecessor, Richard S. Fleshman, known for his strict enforcement of the zoning code, is resigned but wary. His store, Fleshman Antiques, sells oak and walnut furniture.

“For those of us in the antiques business, the town had an established uniqueness that drew people here for the antiques,” Mr. Fleshman said. “You don’t want to lose that attractiveness of having people come here specifically for that.”

Views are varied along the brick sidewalks of Main Street, also known as Maryland 144, a busy thoroughfare recently designated a National Scenic Byway. Some businesses happily anticipate a swell of “heritage tourists” and families drawn by Adventure Park USA, a miniature golf attraction being built across nearby Interstate 70.

Others in the town worry the historic district’s charm will be diluted by merchants selling what Mr. Fleshman’s wife, Nancy, calls “nickel-dime items — T-shirts, cheap stuff and things that tourists buy.”

Karen Carrier, whose New Market General Store was the subject of a failed 2002 lawsuit accusing the town of illegally permitting the store to sell antique reproductions, said the community won’t lose its charm.

The proposed zoning changes require preservation of the district’s historic character, so Main Street will retain its outward appearance even if the merchandise changes, Miss Carrier said.

“The one that you hear over and over again is tattoo parlors. You hear that constantly: ‘A tattoo parlor is going to come to town.’ Well, probably not. First of all, they seem to be nestled where they’re going to be successful, and not too many blue-haired ladies who come antique shopping are going to say, ‘Let’s go get a tattoo while we’re at it.’

“And if they did come, and they preserved the outside of the building and they ran a good business and, for whatever reason, they were successful, God bless ‘em. What’s the big deal?”

Jodi Scates, owner of the Chair Loft, foresees problems from a change in the code that would permit stores in buildings without dwelling units. The current ordinance encourages owner-occupied businesses, which Miss Scates said promotes pride and upkeep of the buildings.

“I own the property; I want to take care of it,” she said. “When it’s commercialized, you rent it out, and landlords don’t want to spend money.”

Keith Nelson, operator of Tomorrow’s Antiques, said some of the uses that would be permitted under the proposed revisions already have been allowed as variances or special exceptions to the existing code.

But Mr. Burhans said that practice feeds perceptions of favoritism.

“This just takes the personalities out of it,” he said. “A good zoning ordinance says you should do things by right, not by everybody going for a special exception or a variance.”

Mr. Nelson, who has sold antiques in New Market for 17 years, said the town’s leaders should proceed with caution.

“Most of the people who come to my shop come here because they enjoy coming here,” he said. “I would not like them to come here and be disappointed by a lot of new changes.”

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