Should a building designed in 1986 receive a building permit in 1992? Or have tastes and philosophies about architecture changed so much in six years that the plans need to be updated?
Those questions have stymied a Masonic organization seeking city permission to build a new temple on one of the last large development parcels in the Bolton Hill historic district.
Members of the Most Worshipful Hiram Grand Lodge AF&AM Inc., an organization with 1,500 members, received approval in 1986 to construct a $3.2 million headquarters in the 1200 block of Eutaw Place. But its financing with Old Court Savings & Loan Association collapsed when Old Court failed.
The Masons have a new financing plan and again are poised to start the building. They broke ground ceremonially Dec. 7.
But city officials say so much time has elapsed that the Masons must now get a new permit if they want to build.
As part of that permit application review process, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation is seeking community comments by Friday.
The design also has received scrutiny from the Mount Royal Improvement Association's architectural review board, who say 1986's design may be inappropriate for 1992.
"We're very happy that they're finally able to build on that lot because many of us feel that an open space is not one of the best uses of land in a residential neighborhood," said Romaine Somerville, the improvement association's president.
But, she said, "It's in their best interest to update the plan and take advantage of new developments in architecture and urban planning.
"If you went to buy a car or a refrigerator today, you wouldn't accept a 1985 model. It's basically the same in architecture."
Added Gary Anderson, a review board member: "Changes have taken place in the neighborhood, and attitudes about architecture have changed since the building was designed. There's more public awareness about the need to have buildings that are compatible with their surroundings."
Designed for the Masonic order and its female affiliate, the Naomi Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, the proposed Masonic temple would rise three stories just north of the existing Hiram Grand Lodge at 1205 Eutaw Place.
Plans by Eugene Hentley and Associates of Atlanta call for an arched entrance, flat brick walls and few windows, because meetings are secret. Inside, members say, the floor plan would be based on that of the biblical temple of Solomon.
Grand Master John V. Thornton said his organization is determined to start and is happy to comply with wishes of the city and neighborhood. But he can't understand why, if it hasn't changed, a design that received city approval once has to be reviewed again.
"We have no objection to them reviewing it, as long as they don't want to make any more changes," he said. "We made changes in the 1980s to the facade of the building in response to their suggestions.
"We have documents to indicate that CHAP did approve it, as well as the [Housing Department's] Design Advisory Panel and the neighborhood. The only thing that stopped us is Old Court. We were a victim of circumstances."
Kathleen Kotarba, CHAP's executive director, said the city never officially issued a building permit in 1986 although it did issue a "notice to proceed."
Bill Toohey, a Housing Department spokesman, said city law requires the review process because construction did not begin within six months of when the permit was issued.
Section 112.2 of the Baltimore City Code says that "any permit issued shall become invalid if the authorized work is not commenced within six months after the issuance of the permit or if the authorized work is suspended or abandoned for a period of six months after the work is commenced."
Members of the neighborhood's review board say they are concerned that the building's exterior be compatible with the neighborhood and have a "pedestrian-friendly" scale and texture.
They say its large size and "decidedly commercial and suburban look" will stand in stark contrast with the rusticated stone and brick buildings around it.
While such a modernistic structure many have seemed acceptable in the 1980s, they say, they believe a more "contextual" approach would be better now.
Review board members also believe some features of the 1986 design, such as a strip of bronze-tinted glass near street level, look dated and should be redesigned to help the building better fit the neighborhood.
"Over the past year or so we have tried to take a more rigorous approach to the design review process," Mr. Anderson said. "We are taking a harder look at everything, not just at this building. We are imposing this more rigorous approach on ourselves and our neighbors as well because we care about how the community looks.
"There's a feeling that we have been a bit lax in the past, and there are things in place that we are not particularly happy about now."
Mrs. Somerville said the community review process may even help the Masons save money because they have suggested that the bronze tinted glass be replaced with cheaper brick panels that would be less prone to vandalism.