Rochambeau razing on hold

Archdiocese postpones weekend demolition pending Monday hearing on permit


Opponents of the plan to demolish the 100-year-old Rochambeau scrambled yesterday to stop the Archdiocese of Baltimore from razing the building this weekend.

Church officials agreed to postpone taking down the Mount Vernon-area apartment building until after a hearing Monday during which city officials will reconsider the demolition permit.

"We are naturally pleased," said George W. Liebmann, the attorney representing the demolition opponents. Liebmann had arranged for a city Circuit Court hearing this morning to try to get a restraining order preventing demolition this weekend, then canceled it after hearing from church officials late yesterday.

"I think there was obvious unfairness in demolishing a building the day before a hearing," he said.

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

Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said yesterday that the church postponed the demolition after its attorney heard about the opponents' attempt to get a restraining order.

"The archdiocese decided it would be prudent to put aside plans to demolish the building this weekend," Caine said. "We remain confident that the city's decision to grant the demolition permit will be upheld."

Yesterday, an electronic sign near Charles and Baltimore streets flashed notice that Charles Street would close this weekend in the blocks near the Rochambeau. And workers preparing for the demolition worked to secure the site around the building, which sits next to the newly restored Basilica of the Assumption.

For more than a year, the archdiocese and area preservationists have squared off over the Rochambeau, a Renaissance Revival apartment building, named for a French commander who camped on the site during the Revolutionary War.

The archdiocese wants to build a prayer garden where the Rochambeau stands to better show off the refurbished Basilica. Eventually, church officials have said, they hope to use the site for a Basilica visitor center.

When Mayor Martin O'Malley announced in June that he would grant the archdiocese a permit to raze the Rochambeau, he said he had no choice because religious freedom laws left little room for negotiation.

Until the archdiocese postponed the demolition, Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, worried that the Rochambeau wouldn't make it through the weekend, negating the purpose of Monday's hearing.

"It needs to at least survive the hearing," Warren said.

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