Preservationists challenge Superblock demolition plan

Group aims to keep buildings from being razed

January 24, 2011|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Historical Trust is asking the state attorney general's office for guidance on how to address concerns from preservationists who oppose a developer's plans to raze certain buildings on Baltimore's west side, including the former Read's drugstore.

The request comes after a statewide preservation group, Preservation Maryland, appealed a decision by the Maryland Historical Trust to allow the developer to proceed, saying a 2001 legal agreement calls for those buildings to be preserved if at all possible.

Preservation Maryland's executive director, Tyler Gearhart, last week wrote to the board chairman of the Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency, asking the trustees to nullify a Dec. 22 letter from state historic preservation officer Rodney Little allowing the project to move ahead.

In his letter, Little indicated that he would not hold up the project for being out of compliance with the 2001 preservation agreement signed by the city and state. Little did not say that the plan complied with the 2001 agreement.

Little's letter was a key document needed by the developers, Lexington Square Partners, to move ahead with a $150 million project to revitalize Baltimore's so-called Superblock, a two-block area bounded roughly by Lexington, Howard and Fayette streets and Park Avenue.

Plans by Peter Fillat Architects call for 179,261 square feet of retail space, a 27-story tower with 300 apartments, a 120-room hotel and a 725-space garage. One of the buildings targeted for demolition is the former Read's drugstore at Howard and Lexington streets, the site of a 1955 student lunch counter sit-in that, historians say, played a key role in American civil rights history.

Gearhart could not be reached for comment Monday. But in his letter, he said that the 2001 preservation agreement calls for certain buildings within the Superblock to be saved, if possible, and that Lexington Square Partners' plan does not comply.

Gearhart argued that Little's letter should not be considered a green light for the project. He asked for the Maryland Historical Trust's 15-member board to review Little's decision, withhold the state's approval of Lexington Square's plan until it complies with the preservation agreement, and hold a public hearing on the issue.

Little, who serves as director of the Maryland Historical Trust as well as state historic preservation officer, said he has asked the state attorney general's office for legal advice on how to proceed and hopes to have a response later this week. In the meantime, he said, Preservation Maryland will be given an opportunity to address the trustees at their board meeting next month.

Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Monday that it was not unusual for state agencies to seek advice from the attorney's general's office but that she was not aware of any advice the office had given regarding the Superblock issue.

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