Rochambeau's fate is murky after ruling

September 12, 2006|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

The future of Baltimore's 100-year-old Rochambeau grew dicier yesterday as a Court of Special Appeals judge ruled that a stay of demolition for the apartment building will expire at 7 a.m. tomorrow unless preservationists can make a persuasive case before then.

Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. set the deadline in response to emergency motions filed last week by both the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a group of demolition opponents led by the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association.

The Archdiocese is pushing to raze the Rochambeau as soon as possible for a prayer garden. The opponents are fighting to save the building - at least until they can persuade the court to reconsider the legality of the demolition permit.

"This court is persuaded that appellants' motion should be denied," Murphy wrote. "This court is also persuaded, however, that appellants should have an opportunity to request appropriate relief from the Court of Appeals before demolition begins."

For the second time in about a month, preservationists rushed last week to save the building even as wrecking crews stood by and streets shut down for the demolition.

The Mount Vernon-area challengers argue that Mayor Martin O'Malley and Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano should not have let federal religious freedom rules trump Baltimore urban renewal goals when they issued the church a demolition permit this summer. Graziano and Planning Director Otis Rolley III testified last month that they would not have let any other property owner raze the building.

The archdiocese maintains that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which aims to protect religious property owners against discrimination, city officials could not deny the church the right to raze the Rochambeau.

The Rochambeau was built in 1905 at the corner of Charles and Franklin streets next to the church's famed Basilica of the Assumption.

Local and national preservationists say the Renaissance Revival apartment building, named for a French commander who camped on the site during the Revolutionary War, contributes to the district's historic character and serves as a prime example of the work of noted architect Edward Hughes Glidden.

The archdiocese, however, wants to replace the building, which it has owned since 2002, with a prayer garden. Church officials hope to clear the vacant structure by November, when the archdiocese plans to show off the basilica's $32 million renovation at a 200th- anniversary celebration.

Eventually, church officials have said, they hope to use the site for a basilica visitors' center.

Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said yesterday that the church is again prepared for a weekend demolition, with work scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. Saturday.

"At this point we feel like we're one step closer to being able to bring the building down and enhancing the church presence on the site," Caine said.

But George W. Liebmann, the attorney for the Mount Vernon demolition challengers, said it's critical that he be able to get a judicial opinion on the matter.

"I would point out," Liebmann said, "that as of this date the total opportunity we've had to present our argument ... has been exactly 15 minutes long."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.