Pep Boys plans to demolish building Work set to begin Monday at old Bond Lumber Co. facility on Harford Road

September 25, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A Pep Boys supercenter is coming to Harford Road with a plan to tear down the quaint Bond Lumber Co. building there, despite a struggle by some neighbors to save the building.

With city permits in hand, a company spokesman said groundbreaking is set for Monday. He said the auto service and parts store will occupy 18,200 square feet and is to open in January as one of five Pep Boys stores in Baltimore.

Legal appeals to halt construction led by local resident Richard Dowd, a 32-year-old graphic designer, have been unsuccessful.

From the company's point of view, knocking down the 19th-century storefront makes business sense, but local critics contend it contradicts a design commissioned this year for the Harford Road corridor -- centered at the busy intersection with Cold Spring Lane.

"It sets a precedent for suburban-style development which in this context looks like urban blight," said Marian Gillis, executive director of the Harford Road Partnership, known as HARP.

In March, HARP commissioned a local master plan by Duany Platter-Zyberk & Co., an architecture and urban design firm, which stressed preservation and reuse of old buildings, particularly the three-story lumber store at 4621 Harford Road. The plan, however, is not legally binding.

And looks aren't everything in a business equation. "They [critics] want a cityscape area," said Bill Furtkevic, director of communications at Pep Boys headquarters in Philadelphia. "Because of our business, we can't incorporate their design concept."

Furtkevic said the HARP plan was "carefully considered by senior management." The conclusion was that "it's in our best interest to knock it [the building] down to maximize the line of vision along the entire leased frontage on Harford Road."

To catch the eyes of motorists at Harford Road and Cold Spring Lane, "that visibility is extremely important," he added.

The store is expected to create 31 jobs and generate about $3 million in annual revenue.

A DPZ town planner, Mike Watkins, expressed outrage at the plan. "Tearing that building down is like knocking out a tooth," he said. "Even if they win, they lose."

With a new Rite Aid drugstore, a McDonald's and a Pep Boys at one intersection, said Watkins, the corridor could lose a "local vernacular" -- its distinctive character -- in the city street scene.

To address those concerns, Furtkevic said, "We enhanced the [Pep Boys] facade with features such as canopies, parapets and a brick pilaster fence along the street front to provide a warm atmosphere to the neighborhood."

Those features, said Watkins, are not enough to mesh with an urban setting. "A fence is small compensation for loss of a historic building," he said.

The real estate developer who put together the project, Leonard Weinberg, said, "The community vision for that site had no basis in economic reality."

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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