Informal vote shows residents favor CVS in Charles Village But most also want design more compatible with area

September 03, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Over objections from residents, the dilapidated business district of Charles Village, given an economic boost by a new Safeway last year, may soon see another large retail store open to anchor the historic "book block" area.

CVS/pharmacy, the drugstore company, plans to lease for 20 years the land on the northwestern corner of West 25th and North Charles streets from Robert A. Wetzler, a company representative said.

Laura C. Miller, regional director of real estate, said CVS plans to tear down buildings on six lots on West 25th and four on Charles and build a structure on the site this year. She estimated 20 to 40 jobs would be created.

But whether to welcome a new drugstore into the heart of Charles Village -- at the cost of 10 old buildings that have seen better days -- was debated at a heated, three-hour community meeting Tuesday night at Lovely Lane Methodist Church.

Wetzler said nearly all the adjoining corner buildings are empty and crumbling, some gutted by fire.

After viewing an architect's drawing of the proposed drugstore -- a brick-and-stone structure with a clock tower -- some residents reacted angrily at the prospect of losing vacant vintage buildings.

A majority -- roughly 37 of the 50 people present -- cast informal ballots in favor of a new CVS near the Safeway, but 33 of the 37 said they favored a different design more in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. Thirteen voted against demolition.

A faction that wants to preserve the facades of the 10 buildings emerged.

But the Silver Spring architect who presented the CVS drawings, Tadeo A. Grodzki, told the group that was not an option, because salvaging the early 20th-century facades would be "enormously expensive."

At the meeting, Grodzki said his design "tries to work with the existing architectural language." Yesterday he added, "There's limited wiggle room."

One woman at the meeting, Linda Lapides, objected to a large corporate chain store in that area: "The book block is unique to Baltimore," she said. "CVS is not special to Baltimore."

One of the few remaining bookstores on the block, Tiber Books, closed Monday.

One man, Bob Williams, declared, "A lot of people in this room were against the Safeway. We're overlooking positives. We can work with these people."

Ed Hargadon, a Charles Village resident, said that in the face of a nearly completed deal, he hoped residents would negotiate with CVS over the best design for an urban neighborhood. "Legally, we have no leverage, so let's figure out the best deal we can get," he urged.

One of the last booksellers on the block, Teresa Johanson of Kelmscott Book Shop, which sells old and rare books, said she supports the opening of a CVS and hopes it brings more foot traffic to the area.

"I've seen things going downhill for 10 years," Johanson said. "I'm hoping it will be a boon, the beginning of an upswing."

One resident at the meeting remained unswayed: "I promise to boycott if they demolish that part of our community," said Laura Malick.

Participants agreed to hold another open meeting between CVS representatives and Charles Village residents in two weeks.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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