Annapolis orders razing of historic Main St. building Demolition will end eight-month struggle

August 13, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Annapolis officials who have spent eight months since a devastating downtown fire fighting to preserve a fire-damaged, historic Main Street building have reluctantly ordered its demolition.

In a letter to building owner Ronald B. Hollander yesterday morning, the city criticized him for failing to protect and preserve the two-story brick facade, which "suffered substantial further deterioration" during intense thunderstorms Monday.

"The structure, as braced, now may possibly cause injury to the public and to nearby property" so it must be razed within 72 hours, the letter stated.

Said Hollander, who has spent about $40,000 for engineers and attorneys in the fight for the right to demolish 184-186 Main St.: "We said that to them on Dec. 9, when the building burned. We told the city the building was unstable. We wanted to tear down the wall immediately.

"Political reasons kept that building up," Hollander said. "Bricks have been falling off the ruined wall since Dec. 9. This was not just happening with one thunderstorm. This letter strongly vindicates our original position."

Hollander said demolition could happen as early as today.

Yesterday's decision follows months of negotiations, pleas, emergency hearings and several lawsuits. After denying Hollander's initial request for a permit to demolish the building in December, city officials demanded that he stabilize the facade to keep it from tumbling.

Hollander called the decision "idiotic" and refused, which landed him in court. He was also sued by the Historic Annapolis Foundation and a city resident to prevent him from demolishing the structure. The courts ruled against him.

Yesterday's letter said, "You refused to abate the hazard and by letter dated December 18, 1997, invited the city to do so. We have seen little indication that steps have been taken to abate the safety hazard or to prevent the structure's deterioration."

After the city shored up the building, officials sent Hollander a bill for $40,000. He said yesterday he'll go to court before he pays it.

This public battle divided residents, business owners and city officials as they struggled with the importance of history in the 303-year-old city. Those who supported preservation blame Hollander.

"He doesn't care about the city," said David Kneas, a former Hollander tenant and owner of Oceans II music store, two doors from the burned facade. "He just wants to put a new and bigger building up. He doesn't care what it will look like."

Winds and heavy rain Monday pulled tarps from the structure, which caused the walls to shift and crumble further. One of the structure's four arches also broke. Worried merchants called City Hall to complain that more bricks were falling from the building.

"Everybody has an opinion in this," said City Administrator Walter N. Chitwood III. "We attempted to preserve it. Unfortunately, we believe it suffered enough damage for us to take these steps. Public safety outweighs preservation.

"We're not blaming anyone," Chitwood said. "We believe there was some deterioration that was taking place all along."

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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