Judge allows UB to continue plans to demolish 1915 Odorite building

Preservation group's lawsuit rejected

new student center planned

January 16, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The University of Baltimore cleared a major legal hurdle yesterday in its contentious quest to demolish a 1915 building known as the "Odorite" and build in its place a $14 million student center.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon ruled that the university does not have to halt its plans and consult with Baltimore Heritage Inc., a citywide historical and preservation group that sued the university in an attempt to save the building at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues.

"We are very disappointed," said Johns W. Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage. "The importance of the Odorite can't be overstated."

Cannon, who presided at the three-day hearing, denied a request by Baltimore Heritage to stop the mock Tudor structure from being torn down while the group appeals the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Originally a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co., the building later housed the Odorite Co., a cleaning supplies firm, and was purchased by the state in 1989 for expansion of the University of Baltimore.

University President Robert Bogomolny said last night that he was pleased with the judge's decision because he felt the school did not violate the law. He also said he has thought "30 times about not demolishing the building."

"We know it's feasible that there are other options," he said. "But the difference in cost is substantial. It's at least a million and a half dollars."

Plans call for a 65,000-square-foot student center, which is to include a bookstore, theater and food court. Bogomolny testified this week that the center is important to the university, which is a commuter school, because he wants to provide students with a formal area to congregate.

Bogomolny said he does not know what the next step is for the proposed student center. He said he will meet next week with the state attorney general's office, which represented the school, to discuss the process.

Preservationists say they hoped to retain at least part of the Odorite building. Baltimore Heritage contends that the university skirted Maryland statutes by failing to adequately confer with the preservation group about the fate of the Odorite building.

"This so-called consultation was a scam," argued Kelly Jaske, a lawyer for Baltimore Heritage. "You can't disregard the unique character of a building just because you think the building isn't pretty."

Cannon decided that the university completed its legal obligation to consult with Baltimore Heritage about the building.

"There has been a very sincere and deep disagreement," Cannon said. "That doesn't mean there wasn't consultation."

Kathleen G. Kotarba, executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, said yesterday that the Odorite structure is a part of Baltimore's automotive and transportation history.

"The building is a rare survivor of early 20th-century architecture," Kotarba said. "CHAP recognizes it as an extraordinarily important building. At one time there were 30 buildings like this in the Mount Royal area. Now there are four." An example of a similar building, she said, is the City Cafe, which also was an auto showroom.

Bogomolny said he feels like the university has been unfairly maligned during the planning process, which has caused a years-long bitter battle in the neighborhood.

"I've been a little disappointed that some of our neighbors haven't recognized what a good neighbor we are," Bogomolny said. "We have helped stabilize the area."

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