A prescription for demolition? Charles Village changes: Residents view the proposal to tear down the Astor Court building as a sign of the mounting threat to local structures posed by regional retail chains that want to move into the area.

Urban Landscape

January 18, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

A BANNER on the old Astor Court apartment building at St. Paul and 25th streets in Baltimore announces that it has been reborn as "The New Goucher Village Apartments."

The name reflects the area's recent designation as the Old Goucher College Historic District, anchored by the original buildings of Goucher College, which moved to Towson in the 1950s.

But in less than a year, the 72-year-old apartment complex itself could be history.

The four-story structure is a possible site for a branch of Rite Aid Corp., according to Tracy Durkin, administrator of the Charles Village Community Benefits District Management Authority.

Ms. Durkin said Rite Aid has been looking for land near the Safeway grocery store planned for the block bounded by Charles, St. Paul, 24th and 25th streets in Charles Village.

Demolition of the Goucher Village Apartments would be an alternative to a previous plan that drew opposition from Charles Village residents. That plan called for the demolition of eight buildings at the northwest corner of Charles and 25th streets, a district known as Baltimore's "Book Block" because several book shops are there.

The proposal to demolish the apartment building is a sign of the mounting threat to historic buildings posed by regional chains that want to move into the area, according to residents who are concerned about preserving the neighborhood's architectural character.

They point out that nine buildings are being razed to make way for the Safeway, including the old Chesapeake Cadillac showroom on Charles Street, two former school administration buildings on East 25th Street and six rowhouses on East 24th Street.

They fear that's just the start, as retailers such as Rite Aid and Blockbuster Video seek locations near the grocery store.

"It's the first step toward Charles Street looking like a dreary commercial strip," said Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, a Charles Village resident and former at-large member of the management authority. "If we wanted that, we'd live in the suburbs."

Others argue that Charles Village is fortunate to have retailers that want to move into the area. They say the community should do what it can to encourage any investment that results in new jobs, even if that means the loss of some older buildings.

Ms. Durkin said the benefits district management group is sponsoring four community meetings designed to give residents, merchants and others a chance to air their views.

In many ways, she says, Greater Charles Village is at a crossroads, with the pending arrival of Safeway and other retailers. She believes community members need to develop a "collective vision" for the future of the community, and use it to guide and encourage responsible new development.

An influx of retailers can be seen as a positive development, she said.

"It means there's interest in the area," she said. "People want to come here. But you have to manage it responsibly, so people don't tear down things and destroy the character of the neighborhood."

The community meetings will be held at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, St. Paul and 22nd streets, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday; Oak Street AME Church, 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 27; Mariner Health Center at 2700 N. Charles St., 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 31; and the Benefits District office, 14 E. 25th St., 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 3.

Constructed in 1924, the Goucher Village building is owned by Community Link Corp. of Baltimore and managed by Frederick Realty. Monthly rents are $330 to $350 for one-bedroom apartments, and $275 to $310 for efficiencies.

Benedict J. Frederick III, a partner of Frederick Realty, said his firm has been working since July to upgrade the building by improving security, evicting irresponsible tenants and making repairs. He said it plans a big leasing push this spring, when the market traditionally is strongest.

At the same time, he said, the building is available for sale for $695,000. That works out to about $67 per square foot, including demolition costs of $150,000. Mr. Frederick said his firm provided that information to Rite Aid representatives and is waiting to hear back from them.

In the meantime, he said, Frederick Realty will proceed with the leasing strategy it initiated last summer.

"Our objective is to provide clean, decent apartments that people can afford," he said. "We're very confident that, come March or April, we'll have the building full."

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