Groups fight for Rochambeau

July 22, 2006|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,SUN REPORTER

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has permission to raze the 100-year-old Rochambeau apartment building, but that's not stopping a number of opponents from trying last-minute tactics to save the structure.

Those attempting to save the Mount Vernon building realize that odds are probably against them, with the archdiocese intent on demolishing the Rochambeau to build a prayer garden next to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and with city leaders supporting the church's wishes.

"It's a matter of principle," says former Baltimore Heritage Inc. President John Maclay. Like other local and national preservationists, he considers the Rochambeau architecturally significant and says that if it were rehabilitated, it would bring more life to the neighborhood than a prayer garden would.

This week the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, along with a small group of residents and business owners, appealed to Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano to reconsider the demolition permit he issued this month. They argue that approving the demolition is inconsistent with city law that advocates preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

It was unclear yesterday how Graziano would respond.

Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine, however, said, "We think the city made the right decision in granting the archdiocese the demolition permit and are confident that decision will stand."

Baltimore Heritage also has asked Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to designate the Rochambeau a city landmark.

CHAP was to consider awarding the Rochambeau landmark status at a meeting yesterday but canceled the hearing at the last minute upon realizing that the archdiocese had not allowed a sign advertising the hearing to be posted on the building. By law, hearings must be posted.

"It is our understanding that the city's process which establishes a building as a city landmark must be a consensual one," he said. "Obviously, we do not consent because we have other plans for the building, and we understood that the formal way to demonstrate this position was to refuse to post the building, which is what we did."

John Murphy, Baltimore Heritage's attorney, wants a hearing.

"This allows an owner to veto a historic designation, and that can't be right," Murphy said. "We want [the city] to just go up there and post [the sign] and have the hearing two weeks from now."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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