Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) will consider granting landmark status today to a row of historic downtown homes slated for demolition by Mercy Medical Center.
Preservationists are trying to prevent the hospital from razing the 1820s-era houses in the 300 block of St. Paul Place, some of the oldest downtown, for a planned $292 million expansion.
City housing officials gave Mercy a demolition permit Friday, and Baltimore Heritage, a preservation organization, immediately appealed, arguing that a law paving the way for Mercy to quickly get the permit passed the City Council improperly.
A bill, quietly amended by City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. at Mercy's request, stripped all historic protections from the homes, including a provision that required a one-year demolition deliberation process.
Baltimore Heritage is arguing that because city officials did not change the title of the bill after Mitchell amended it, the public had little chance of realizing the impact of the change.
In a letter to CHAP, Mercy officials said they would "vigorously oppose" any effort to stop the demolition by granting the buildings landmark status. Hospital officials have said they are eager to raze the homes to begin construction on a new inpatient tower.
To demolish city landmarks, property owners must win approval from CHAP.
Even if CHAP approves the landmark designation, it would still need backing by the Planning Commission and the City Council to become official. Moreover, it's unclear whether the designation would trump the issuance of the demolition permit.
Preservationists and CHAP members have said that even if their action is moot, they still want to weigh in on the matter to make a public statement.
"I think [the city's] position is, `Do whatever you want, CHAP. It doesn't matter,'" said John H. Denick, Baltimore Heritage's attorney.
The preservation board meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. and the landmark public hearing is expected to begin at 3 p.m.
The meeting will be in the Planning Department's eighth-floor conference room, 417 E. Fayette St.