January 16, 2015
Many of you who have visited Antietam will remember the small house along the Smoketown Road in the East Woods. It has been there for many years, and while it should not be there, it is fairly unobtrusive. Unfortunately the house was a rental property owned by a neighbor on an adjacent farm who is, mildly stated, no friend to the National Park Service. That person recently sold the house and about 5 acres to the person renting the house, no public listing of the sale was ever made. The new owner is taking advantage of a loose easement from the 1970’s that did not prohibit building for agricultural use. The result is that a new barn is going up on the five acres property and near the house. Worse, it stands out very clearly to people traversing the tour route.
How can such a thing happen, you might ask? This new intrusion highlights an old problem, loose easements on inholding properties. When the park began buying easements the dominant threat was housing subdivisions. In order to get local farmers to put land under easement to prevent new houses they NPS had to allow farming activity to continue, and restricting any new farm buildings was a deal-breaker for many people. The easements were never reviewed or updated as time went by, and given the current tight financial situation (see related story) there is no money to buy more restrictive easements now. SHAF has talked about pursuing easement holders about selling more restrictive easements, and it will be discussed at the march General Membership meeting.
The entire NPS battlefield boundary is under a Washington County special Zoning restriction, limiting size, appearance, etc. Unfortunately it too only applies to houses and commercial structures, not agricultural structures, so the Historic District Commission had no jurisdiction.
The new owner was required to consult with the Superintendent Trail of Antietam National Battlefield, but she did not have to option to deny the permit, only to consult on size, location and exterior appearance. She did the best she could to locate it near where an older smaller building once stood. It is possible that some screening trees will be planted along the tour road to minimize the visual impact of the structure. We at SHAF regret this new intrusion, but for the time being, it is now a part of the visual landscape of East Woods and there isn’t anything we can do about it.