Foes to fight CVS in court

Neighborhood groups oppose razing period houses for drugstore

`Preserve the facades'

Dwellings could be demolished before Jan. 19 hearing

January 01, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Charles Village residents opposed to the planned demolition of six century-old rowhouses to make way for a drugstore are vowing to fight in court in three weeks, even if the buildings have been torn down by then.

The residents say they hope officials of the CVS drugstore chain will wait until the court challenge is heard before they raze the buildings on West 25th Street near North Charles Street.

In October, Baltimore Circuit Judge Gary L. Strausberg ruled that he would grant the Committee for Responsible Development on 25th Street a temporary stay on the demolition only if it posted a $2.5 million bond.

"There was no way we were going to raise a bond of $2.5 million, especially when the project isn't worth $2.5 million anyway," Douglas Armstrong, the committee chairman, said yesterday.

Without the injunction, the buildings can be torn down, even before the court hearing scheduled for Jan. 19. Armstrong said his group will go to court even if the rowhouses are gone to make a statement about zoning protections.

CVS officials could not be reached for comment, but the company's real estate manager, Domenic Schiavone, has said in the past that the store would "fit right into the urban streetscape."

He also has said that CVS officials tried to work with the community association to preserve the facades of the townhouses, but decided that would be too expensive.

Robert Wetzler, owner of the six buildings, declined to discuss the demolition, and his attorney, Stanley S. Fine, could not be reached for comment.

Four buildings in the same block have been demolished for the drugstore's parking lot.

"I don't see where we need a drugstore, but that's a business decision," said Rick Noble, a member of the Committee for Responsible Development on 25th Street. "They could have at least maintained the facade of the building. CVS chose to put their outlet in Fells Point inside existing historical buildings. So why aren't they doing that here?"

Noble, who has lived in Charles Village for 30 years, said Baltimore's unique architecture is one of the main reasons he chose to live in the city. He and others complain that across the city, architecture is giving way to big business.

"They're not going to maintain the integrity of the building," said Noble, a retired school teacher. "We already have the Safeway that looks more like a prison than a supermarket. They tore down two townhouses to put up the Hollywood Video store on 25th Street. None of them fits."

The issue the residents hope to raise in court concerns zoning and future protections for residents who want to maintain the Victorian-style rowhouses in the North Baltimore neighborhood.

Armstrong's group maintains that Charles Village has been designated a parking-lot district, which means buildings cannot be razed and parking lots cannot be constructed without an ordinance signed by the mayor and City Council.

He said CVS has been unresponsive to the needs of Charles Village residents. City officials also have ignored residents' pleas on the matter, he said.

Armstrong's group collected more than 1,300 signatures in September 1998 asking CVS to discuss its design plans with residents. This spring, more than 3,000 Charles Village residents signed a petition saying they would boycott the chain's drugstores if the buildings are demolished.

Kimberly Nolan and Libby and Antonio Pennacchia were among those who signed.

"We're trying to revitalize the area and make it more family-friendly, and what we're going to end up with is North Avenue on 25th Street," Nolan said yesterday. "CVS has been very good at saying they've been trying to meet our needs, and in fact, have been very difficult. All we wanted was to preserve the facades."

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