It's all about location, negotiation, demolition

Charles Village house brings holdout $1 million

June 21, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Last summer, when one of Baltimore's most powerful and prolific developers wanted Daniel F. Jackson's Charles Village rowhouse, Jackson had just one thing to say: "Show me the money."

And now, he has been shown. More than $1 million of it.

Jackson and two other property owners were all that stood between developer C. William Struever and his planned $150 million condominium and retail project near the Johns Hopkins University.

This spring, the resigned developer wrote a cheeky Jackson a check for more than $1.1 million - a price some Baltimore mansions struggle to pull in.

Jackson, a Pasadena landlord, said the developer and his people underestimated his negotiating prowess.

"I'm not someone who's stupid. I sat down and did my homework," he said. "I could have gone higher than that."

In 2000, Struever began quietly acquiring Charles Village property for his project, which will run along both sides of the 3200 block of St. Paul Street. Though he was paying less than $100,000 for some homes in the beginning, prices steadily rose as word leaked of the posh condos on the way.

By last August, Struever had title to every property he needed to raze, most of which he bought for about $250,000 - every property except Jackson's rental house and two apartment buildings used by fraternities.

Jackson ended up with a fat check, and the developer paid $5 million for two North Charles Street apartment buildings to swap for the fraternity houses.

Though the fierce game of holdout hardball made the project a year late and more than few dollars short, the company expects to finally begin demolition within the month.

"We didn't account for having to spend that much," admitted Josh Neiman, who's managing Struever's project. "But we didn't want to forgo [it] because of an unexpected cost difference. The value the project will create is what everyone will look at in the end."

Shops and condos

The development, formerly called College Town but now known as Village Commons, will bring shops and hundreds of pricey condominiums to both sides of St. Paul Street, stretching Charles Village's existing commercial zone north.

On the east side, which will be built first, there will be 68 loft apartments, retail on the ground floor and underground parking. The homes will cost between the high $300,000s and $500,000.

Next, about 100 more condo apartments will be built across the street - with even more costly penthouse-style units for the eighth to 12th floors.

A Hopkins student dorm and a Barnes & Noble bookstore will anchor the next block.

Though Struever originally wanted to break ground last October, the new goal is September, with people moving into the east-side lofts by fall 2006.

"It's a lot of work coming to fruition," Neiman said.

As the negotiations stunted the project, some in Charles Village cursed the holdouts' greed and obstinacy. Others saluted their capitalist spirit.

"Why should one person hold out for so much and stop something the community wants?" asked Charles Village Association President Beth Bullamore, adding that none of the properties in the way of Struever's bulldozer was "in Grade A condition."

Sandra Sparks, chairwoman of the Charles Village Civic Association's design review committee, said the holdouts "took the developers to the cleaners" because they could.

"It's basic human instinct in effect here," she said. "It's outrageous."

But Jerry Gordon, who owns the neighborhood's Eddie's Market, isn't about to judge. He almost bought one of the 3200 block rowhouses - though if he had, he guesses he wouldn't have been clever enough to hold out for the big bucks.

"I salute the person who got over a million," he said. "That's what this economy and this lifestyle is all about."

In 2002 when Struever brought his checkbook to Daria Montgomery's house a few doors down from Jackson's, she couldn't believe she had the audacity to ask for - and get - $250,000. She was thrilled to leave behind temperamental plumbing and problem parking for a mortgage-less home in Catonsville.

"We were astounded," she said of her deal, "until we heard what other people were getting."

Threat of condemnation

She and her husband had no inkling that holding out might lead to money that big, but they wouldn't have waited anyway, for fear Struever could get the power to acquire the properties through eminent domain.

"Patience is a virtue," she said, "... if you're not afraid of having your house condemned and being kicked out."

Jackson said he was willing to play nice until the condemnation threats.

At first all he wanted was $500,000 - which would still have topped what his neighbors got. But once, he said, the "c" word entered the negotiations, all bets were off.

"It pissed me off when they threatened me - that's when the ante went up," Jackson said.

He increased his price to $900,000.

But when contract after contract failed to please him - Jackson decided, the heck with it, he'd just flat-out ask for $1.5 million.

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