Demolition plans hit a brick wall

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Proposal: Local preservationists fight to save two Redwood Street buildings from being torn down for a hotel, saying an urban renewal plan protects the structures.

January 27, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

PLANS FOR A 125-ROOM Residence Inn by Marriott hotel in downtown Baltimore are on hold, after local preservationists objected to the city's decision to issue a demolition permit for two vacant Redwood Street buildings that stand in the way of the proposed development.

Baltimore attorney John Murphy appealed the permit last month, on the grounds that demolition of the two buildings would conflict with the city's Financial District Urban Renewal Plan, which calls for preservation of "the historic character of Redwood Street."

His action means that the hotel developer, Donald J. Urgo & Associates of Bethesda, cannot proceed with demolition until city officials hold an administrative hearing on the appeal and render a decision. No date has been set for that hearing.

Murphy said in a Dec. 28 appeal letter to acting city Housing Commissioner M. J. "Jay" Brodie that he was acting on behalf of two local preservation groups, Baltimore Heritage and Preservation Maryland, and property owners Peter G. and Nancy C. Kimos.

His appeal was made five days after city officials issued demolition permits for the former Fairfax Savings and Loan building at the southeast corner of Redwood and Light streets and the former Sun Life Insurance building at 101-109 E. Redwood St. Preservationists have argued that both buildings have historic and architectural value and should be preserved and recycled as offices or housing.

Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland, said the two Redwood Street buildings are designated in the renewal plan as structures worthy of preservation.

He said the plan authorizes the city to reject demolition permits that are inconsistent with the objectives of the renewal plan. He noted that the renewal plan also authorizes the city to acquire through eminent domain any property that is going to be used in a manner inconsistent with the plan.

Gearhart said his organization is aware of at least one "substantial purchaser" who would be willing to purchase the two buildings from the city if it acquired them by eminent domain, so public funds would not be encumbered. The purchaser would then find a developer or developers who would save and renovate the buildings for new uses, in keeping with the objectives of the renewal plan, he explained.

The renewal plan states: "The Financial District contains a number of buildings which, because of the architectural quality and association with the commercial history of the city, constitute a valuable cultural, aesthetic, historic and environmental resource in the downtown area.

"The designated properties are more valuable collectively than individually, and their continued use as a group will have a positive influence on their individual value and occupancy. It is important to enhance and respect the historic character of Redwood Street between Charles and South streets."

The buildings at Redwood and Light streets and 101-109 E. Redwood St. fall within Baltimore's Business and Government historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Urgo has a contract to buy them from Meisel & Cohen Properties and plans to demolish both to construct a 125-suite extended-stay hotel for Marriott.

City officials granted the demolition permits Nov. 9 and delivered them Nov. 15, when Kurt L. Schmoke was mayor. But the preservationists were not immediately notified of the decision and did not file an appeal within 10 days, as required by city procedures.

Last month, after Martin O'Malley became mayor, local preservationists asked representatives of the new administration to rescind the November demolition permits and issue new ones, so they could formally appeal the decision. O'Malley's representatives agreed to that request.

In both cases, the housing department stated that even though the permit is granted, the developers might not proceed with demolition until they provide proof to Baltimore Development Corp. that they have financing for the proposed hotel.

Murphy speculated that representatives of the O'Malley administration might not have been aware of the renewal plan's pro-preservation language when they issued the demolition permits. He said he hopes to show through the administrative appeal that the renewal plan was written to protect buildings along Redwood Street.

The urban renewal plan "says these buildings ought to be preserved," he argued. "Our position is that the city should follow the plan when issuing permits."

Pub Date: 1/27/00

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