On St. Paul Street, holding his ground

Charles Village: One man won't sell his rental property to a developer who needs the block.

August 19, 2004|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

C. William Struever is one of Baltimore's shrewdest, most successful developers. Daniel F. Jackson Jr. is a Pasadena man who owns a handful of rental properties.

Who has more pull? In this case, it isn't Struever.

That's because Jackson owns a Charles Village rowhouse needed by Struever to develop a key part of the $150 million College Town dorms, shops and condominiums in North Baltimore near the Johns Hopkins University.

But Jackson - unlike others who have made big profits by selling nearly identical rowhouses to Struever for up to $400,000 - has declined to sell, and nobody can make him.

Critics say he is greedy to seek a reported $1.5 million on a block where houses went for $100,000 just four years ago. Jackson insists he wants only a "decent" deal and is unmoved by pleas to sell in time for a planned October groundbreaking.

"It's not my problem," said Jackson, 56, who grew up in Hamilton. "It's as simple as this: Like the movie Tom Cruise is in, `Show me the money.' Let's get the deal done; stop playing games."

This may not quite be David and Goliath, but the standoff shows how a little guy can trip up major developers when they don't have the muscle of the city's eminent domain acquisition power behind them.

Although Struever quietly bought some houses in the 3200 block of St. Paul Street in 2000, his plans went public in 2002, driving up prices as other owners on the block have sold - leaving only Jackson.

"He's the last remaining property owner," said Dominic Wiker, a College Town development director for Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. "We'd just like this situation to be resolved."

Neither Wiker nor Jackson would discuss details, but area resident Sandra Sparks said Wiker told her Jackson has sought $1.5 million.

"He's way, way, way out of line. It's just pure greed," said Sparks, who runs the design committee for a body that guides development in North Charles Village.

She and others say area residents support the project, which could energize a stretch long considered sleepy for a college district. Now, the longer Jackson holds out, they say, the longer they will have to endure rowhouses that - except for Jackson's - sit vacant.

"We're sitting here watching something not happen until they reach an agreement where [Jackson] doesn't feel anything has been stolen and [Struever and his staff] don't feel they have been gouged," said Janet Levine, executive director of the Charles Village Community Benefits District. "There is that middle ground."

Work starting

On the north side of 33rd Street, Hopkins - with Struever as developer - is preparing to raze an old parking garage and two buildings to make way for student dorms with 618 beds and a Barnes & Noble bookstore at ground level. That is a $75 million piece of College Town.

But Hopkins already owned that property. On the south side of 33rd Street, Struever aims to finish College Town on the 3200 block of St. Paul, linking 33rd to an existing row of stores and restaurants in the 3100 block. First, though, he has had to buy the majority of both sides of the block.

On the west side of St. Paul, the $50 million plan calls for 82 condominiums geared toward empty-nesters, street-level retail and a 575-car garage tucked behind new buildings. Parking revenue bonds of $9 million and part of a $9.9 million infusion from the city are to be used for the garage.

Property records show that Struever owns all 10 rowhouses on that side of St. Paul. Wiker said progress is being made on buying two buildings at the southwest corner of St. Paul and 33rd, where Hopkins fraternity members live. University Mini Mart and a florist occupy the ground floor.

On the east side of St. Paul - which includes Jackson's property - Struever wants to knock down 15 rowhouses and erect a five-story building with shops and restaurants on the first floor and 68 condominiums on upper floors, plus 95 parking spaces out back. That portion will cost over $20 million, Wiker said.

Today, plans for the east side of the block could receive final approval from the city's Design Advisory Panel. But no work can start there until Jackson sells his house, the fourth one from 32nd Street. Three tenants still live there.

Buying quietly

In the beginning, Struever took a page from Walt Disney and James W. Rouse, who quietly amassed tracts for Disney World and Columbia. Struever used two entities, Harris Hill LLC and Homeland Development, to buy several houses for $90,000 to $125,000.

After word spread, some owners got $250,000 apiece for their houses. In June, the second-to-last holdout raised the bar to $400,000 for his place.

Jackson said he is not blocking the project for the sake of blocking it. He thinks College Town could be "real good" and said he has nothing against Struever. But he also said Struever's team insulted him over the past two years.

"I don't know if they think I'm stupid or what," Jackson said Tuesday night in a phone interview. "I have rental properties as a business."

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