Neighborhoods

Sheppard Pratt v. Ruxton: He Said, She Said

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By now, most north Baltimore residents know the basic facts about the controversial group home that Sheppard Pratt Health System has purchased on LaBelle Avenue, a street of small homes and cottages in Ruxton. How developer Jim Carroll purchased, in foreclosure, the shell of an unfinished house to build his 5,000 square foot “dream home.” How some neighbors were concerned about the size of the building, but listened to his genial reassurances. And how a very short time later, when he realized that his children were grown and that a six-bedroom home with a large parking pad on a half-acre behind the Graul’s dumpsters might not be where he wanted to spend the rest of his life, he put it on the market.  Luckily, (arched eyebrow) Sheppard Pratt was there with an offer of $1.4 million for a house that needed no work at all to become a short-term home for wealthy people recovering from depression, anxiety, and/or addiction. This series of events has many La Belle Avenue and other Ruxton residents feeling duped, and wondering about the possibility of a prior agreement between the former homeowner and venerable mental health hospital.

Recently, Baltimore Fishbowl talked with neighbors who had toured the Carroll house before building was finished.  Naturally, no one wants to be named, but they did add a little fuel to the fire of speculation. “I’m not a builder, but even I could see that the interior was very cheaply constructed. I was surprised that Jim didn’t have higher standards for his own house,” said one neighbor.  Another neighbor “thought it was weird that every bedroom had its own bath attached” and that the house had an industrial grade sprinkler system.  Finally, we heard that “he (Mr. Carroll) has flipped houses in the past.” 

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. If Mr. Carroll had planned all along to offload the house to Sheppard Pratt, it would naturally imply that the two parties had had some initial discussion prior to the building. But hospital spokesperson Bonnie Katz firmly denies this, and Jim Carroll is not talking. And another Sheppard Pratt staff member and Ruxton resident also seems doubtful, saying that “it’s just not the way the hospital operates” — that they are neither as far-sighted nor organized as this kind of planning would indicate. 

Where Sheppard Pratt has unquestionably shown foresight is in realizing the financial possibilities of the home.  With eight people (the maximum number of patients in residence) paying approximately $600 per night, the home could gross Sheppard Pratt nearly $150,000 a month.  In the words of a Neighbors Against Sheppard Pratt Facebook post:  “Would you buy a $1.5 million home if you could earn a profit in 11 months?”   

From the point of view of residents, this is doubly irritating. Not only did a developer flip a house under their very noses, not only will Sheppard Pratt be running a hugely profitable ‘not-for-profit’ facility on their street, but they will be paying the price in terms of increased traffic, potential drop in home values and, most importantly from a neighborhood point-of view, an ever-changing roster of strangers on the block. “Kids run around this street on their own,” a resident says. “I don’t want to lose that.”  

Widespread accusations of NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard) ring a little false. Do people in other, less affluent communities welcome these type of residences with open arms?  Not really, according to a local developer who prefers not to be named. “No one really wants them, but it’s usually a matter of how savvy the community is.  By that I mean [it’s how] organized [they are], and how hard they are willing to fight that decides the outcome” (i.e., whether or not the facility is allowed).  

Neighborhoods are occasionally successful in fighting off group houses or assisted living facilities — sometimes through sheer orneriness, when the developer just decides to go away in the face of hostility; more often through appealing to local zoning rulings. In 1997 in neighboring Roland Park, the Civic League successfully fought the development of an assisted living facility at 4803 Roland Avenue by lobbying against the requisite Baltimore City zoning variance.  In another case in 2009, the city ruled against a zoning change that would have allowed the Baltimore Country Club to sell land to the Keswick Group to build a large assisted living facility.  But for the Sheppard Pratt home in Ruxton, a zoning variance is not needed because the building falls within the “single family residence” designation. According to County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents Ruxton, “there is nothing in county law to keep the hospital from opening a group home in the neighborhood.”

At an angry and well-publicized community meeting on April 27th, Marion Knott, a Ruxton community leader and a co-director of No Retreat, the Ruxton-based organization fighting the group home,  stated that “the community intends to fight this vigorously.”  On the Dan Rodricks radio show on WYPR recently, Tom Costello, lawyer and co-director of No Retreat, outlined the primary legal objections: 

First is the short-term, transient nature of the home — an argument that focuses on the intention of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the definition of “group home.” Second is the fact that the home will be run for profit, albeit by a non-profit (Sheppard Pratt). As a commercial enterprise, Costello believes that the home does violate land-use and zoning restrictions. “For-profit activity is not protected by the act, and should not supersede local zoning laws.” The first step, according to Mr. Costello, will be to challenge the licensing process, which will begin in a few months.

So far, the outward signs that the battle continues are a plastic bag full of feces thrown onto the porch of LaBelle Avenue , a flurry of anti-retreat signs, and a stream of Facebook posts on the Neighbors Against Sheppard Pratt website — including an interesting suggestion that neighbors combine assets and buy the property away from the hospital. Behind the scenes, Ms. Knott, Mr. Costello and other members of the community are working within the system to deter Sheppard Pratt from its plan to operate the home. And still other — perhaps most other — Ruxton residents are resigned or nonplussed, ready to let it go and hope for the best. “I assume it’s going to be there,” one said. “And I assume it’s going to be fine.” 

 

 

Modern House in Glyndon With Deep Design Roots

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“Cloud Seven” in Glyndon is not exactly obvious (check out the listing here). There is plenty that disappoints; the bad renovation (please, people, just stay in period!!!), the incongruent cutesy decor and the “crazy Aunt Janet liked to paint” artwork. Is that a turkey mounted on the wall? Enough said. However, there is an allure in the bones of the house. I mean, just look at the photo of the house at night. Magical, right? Well, a dig into Cloud Sevens past reveals a history that explains it all, including ties to one of the most celebrated pieces in modern design.
Cloud Seven was imagined by the renowned architect James Rose for Wilton Dinges in 1960. Rose’s design focus was the fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces (note the glass walls). He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modernism in landscape architecture (more on him here). No surprise then that Mr. Dinges hired him, as he shared his passion for design. In 1944 Wilton, an engineer, started the company Emeco which specialized in tooling and dyes. Yawn. A renowned perfectionist, he led the company to success with many perfectly practical products. Double yawn. Then, in an effort to invigorate his business, he decided to incorporate his love of sculpture (particularly Rodin) into his work. Simply put, he added some form to the function. It was with this new philosophy that he designed the Navy Chair (cue the collective design-geek sigh). Designed for use aboard Naval ships, the chairs were said to have a 150-year life and be able to withstand a torpedo blast. (Dinges threw one out of a sixth story window as a test; it had two minor scratches.) Perhaps also appealing to the Navy men was the rumor that the seat shape was based on Betty Grable’s derriere. Cute. Wilton had a hit on his hands and went on to produce thousands for the government. Fast forward to the late 1990’s when design aficionados started to go retro and homed in on the utilitarian objects produced during World War II…re-enter the Navy Chair. It wasn’t until a certain Philippe Starck (arguably the most influential designer alive today) began to use the chair in his projects, however, that a star was truly born (Philippe talks about the chairs here). The chair is now a world-wide trend you can find everywhere: bars, cafes and offices. (No joke, I saw a McDonald’s outfitted with them the other day). With all their popularity, there are many knock-offs, but it is heartening to know that Emeco (Mr. Dinges died in 1974) still produces the Navy Chair made with the very current 80% recycled materials. 
Cloud Seven is currently on the market for $1,777,777, which includes the four-bedroom house, 40 acres, pool, barn and the bragging rights to all that cool history. I say buy it, embrace its modern-organic design and for the love of God . . . throw some Navy Chairs in that bad boy when you decorate!

Is This the Future of the Inner Harbor?

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Looks a little space age-y doesn’t it?

Architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross released renderings of an Inner Harbor revitalization project that will include convention center expansion and a waterfront park.  The project is expected to cost around $900 million and take four to six years to complete.  The drawings depict the revised convention center, both front and ariel views, and the waterfront park.

As our friends at Curbed put it in their story The Entertaining Expansion of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, “Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a frequent destination for big name musical acts or Orioles fans looking for a place to drown their sorrows, but for the next few years it is going to be one big construction zone.”  True that.

It’s a lot of money and a huge inconvenience but Baltimore’s Inner Harbor needs a facelift.  It’s time.

 

 

 

Roland Park Condo Combines elegance and convenience

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HOT HOUSE: 6 Upland Road, Apt. F-3, Baltimore, 21210

Luxury three bedroom condominium, completely renovated in 2007, in a landmark Beaux-Arts building in Roland Park with private courtyard and gardens: $448,500 

What: Nestled deep in the heart of Roland Park, among the big Victorians and summer cottages of old Baltimore, lie the Upland Road condominiums. Silence reigns, except for the hum of dragonflies over the courtyard reflecting pool. Both grounds and property look very well maintained. Apartment F-3 is generously proportioned, at  2,169 sq. ft., with the high ceilings and thick plaster walls of an earlier era. The recent renovation has created an open, modern space, with a 30’ living/dining room and beautiful kitchen/family room with lots of built-in storage and gas fireplace. The master bedroom (15’x16’) has a large walk-in closet with built-ins for storage, as well as a marble bath. Custom lighting, crown molding, hardwood floors, two additional large bedrooms and a second full bath.  The kitchen has a breakfast bar, also plenty of space for a table, and new appliances. Everything is fresh, so you could move in here tomorrow. Elevator access. Parking included in list price.   

Where:  Upland Road leads off of Roland Avenue, number six is at the intersection of Upland and Club Road, diagonally across from the Baltimore Country Club clubhouse. The nearby and picturesque Tudor style shops (“first shopping mall in the country” a plaque reads) on Roland Avenue include not only neighborhood favorite, French bistro Petit Louis, but a planned new ‘neighborhood’ restaurant from the Tony Foreman/Cindy Wolf restaurant group. 

Why:  A great walking neighborhood. Apartments have an unusually gracious and solid feel. Peaceful and safe, just lock the door and leave. 

NB:  No central air. Place has a grown-up feeling, probably not  ideal for raising kids.

Would Suit: Empty nesters, singles, or young couples who’ve outgrown the downtown scene. Also part-time Baltimoreans (six months in Roland Park, six months in the south of France…)


A Steal in Bolton Hill

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HOT HOUSE: 143 West Lanvale Street, Baltimore 21217

Large, Victorian-era townhouse with stone exterior, restored, in Bolton Hill: $524,900  

What: For anyone who loves upscale city living, this elegant, updated 1880’s townhouse is the answer to a dream. Bolton Hill is probably the most beautiful neighborhood in Baltimore, with a nice mix of residents and a true neighborhood feel. Quieter in the summer, when the nearby MICA students leave, it is an immanently walkable, visually-pleasing place to live. The house at 143 West Lanvale Street is spacious and comfortable, with wood floors and crown molding throughout.  Everything recently restored, including all systems. It features a gourmet cooks kitchen with granite breakfast bar and an extraordinary master bedroom suite which comprises the entire third floor and has French doors opening onto a pretty deck with south-facing views of the city.  Amenities include a steam shower, soaking tub, and covered back porch which overlooks a sweet urban garden. Zoned central air, and at least two wood-burning fireplaces, including one in the master suite. In Manhattan, this would be a $10 million house (just with better shopping). 

Where: West Llanvale Street is in the heart of Bolton Hill, with easy access to Penn Station and the MARC train. B bistro is where it’s at restaurant-wise, with a few sandwich and coffee shops within easy reach.  

Why: Because you can feel rich, without being rich.  Bolton Hill, and this house, were built on a grand scale for the wealthy occupants of Baltimore in its heyday. The period details and beautiful, solid construction will be there long after you’re gone–it’s your place in history.

Why Not: The olive-colored bathroom tile, may not be to everyone’s taste. Neighbor points out “leave anything valuable on your car seat, it will get stolen.”

Would Suit: City-oriented couple, old house enthusiasts, urban family who for $500 can join the neighborhood’s beloved Bolton Hill pool and tennis club 


Stemmer House: Secret Garden and Storied Past

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Can a house make you strive to be your “best self” (thanks for that parting gift Oprah)? Well, if ever there was a possibility, “Stemmer House,” an estate selling in Owings Mills, might just be that place. It is in equal parts aspiration and inspiration. It will take an uncommon breed to continue its captivating history.

 

Okay, first aspiration: The estate includes 27 acres, private guest house, too many gardens to count, two barns, stables, fenced pasture, pool, pond with gazebo, pair of swans and their new cygnets, five peacocks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Check out the listing here, not exactly, “You can do it, Home Depot can help!” The beautiful main house was built on Philadelphia Road in 1781 by Ulrich Stemmer and moved (always a wonder) to its current location in 1930. Local legend holds that Ulrich was a pirate and his wife haunts the house, embittered by the discovery of a second family in the West Indies. At least she has a lovely backdrop for her eternal melodrama. 

The inspiration comes from the extraordinary woman, Barbara Holdridge, who has owned Stemmer House since 1973. Barbara has that certain “NPR story” aura that I always associate with an accomplished, intellectual, arts-based life. She is someone whom you admire and for good reason. At the ripe old age of 22, Barbara and a college friend, Marianne Roney, pioneered the audio book industry. They started Caedmon Records founded on their new idea of recording authors reading their own work. The gals had some luck when they convinced the often drunk poet Dylan Thomas to do the first recording. The fifties weren’t a great time for a pair of young girls to start a business (this was pre-Mad Men for Lord sake!) — there were rejections at the hands of bankers and landlords alike. Barbara and Co. persevered, driven by “recreating the moment of inspiration,” as they called it. In the end, success was granted and Caedmon was sold in 1972 with recordings by the likes of Tennessee Williams, Ogden Nash, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot and William Faulkner, to name a few giants. (Hemingway declined to record for fear that his voice was too high.) During these years, Holdridge became a wife to Lawrence, an equally accomplished, self-taught engineer (how do you do that exactly?) and a mother to twin girls. Barbara’s Chapter 2 used the newly purchased Stemmer House as a canvas for her great passions. Her signature drive was alive and well. The house has been beautifully restored in pain-staking period detail (at a cost of about a $1,000,000, Holdridge estimates). The large front hall is particularly striking, as is the library, which should surprise no one. In pursuing a love of American folk art, she amassed a collection that has traveled to several leading museums and is credited for discovering the noted artist, Ammi Phillips. Barbara’s award-winning gardens at Stemmer House are extensive and magnificent (check out below in our video landing). They have been featured in garden tours and several books. A well-lived life indeed.

In all the many articles about Stemmer House there is no “Lady of the Manor” slant, praising Holdridge’s beautiful clothes or fabulous parties (although I am sure she could have had both). Perhaps it is because there is just so much more to talk about. Barbara Holdridge is a woman of substance and that is perfectly reflected in her much-loved home. Now 80, Mrs. Holdridge has decided to sell, “too many steps,” she says. I hope whoever buys “Stemmer House” accepts that it may be haunted by two ghosts; one an angry wife and one an accomplished woman who inspires them to be more.

Picturesque Monkton

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HOT HOUSE: 16835 Gerting Rd,  Monkton 20111 

Shaker-style low-country farmhouse, with Amish barn and guesthouse, designed and built by local architects.  10 acres of paddocks and 65+ acres of wooded land in My Lady’s Manor: $2,395,000

What: Built in 2000, and designed by Faith Nevins Hawks, this is a stunning home in its own right, currently listed in the New York Times Great Homes and Destinations.  The façade is at once impressive and disarming, with a second-story, screened ‘sleeping porch’ that offers panoramic vistas over rolling countryside. The rooms are airy and well proportioned, uniting traditional and modern in quintessential Shaker manner. Five bedrooms, three and a half baths, with a lovely master bedroom suite and that amazing porch upstairs offer comfort.  Nice kitchen/great room as well as cozy, more formal dining room on the ground floor make for great family hang out space.  Marble baths, cherry floors, built-ins, crunching pea-gravel entrance and paths, perfect gardens —everything to a very high standard. But it is largely about the horses here in My Lady’s Manor, and the Amish-built barn that houses the stables is  a cathedral to equine culture.  Pristine and serene, with sunlight weaving through the vaulted wooden beams, the workmanship competes only with the bucolic setting and the horses themselves for attention.  Inside: six stalls, post and beam construction and heated tack room.  When you’re not out in the barn or riding on the 65+ acres, you can work-out in the house gym, swim in the pool or visit the chickens in their custom coop. 

Where: Follow York Road all the way north to the tiny village of Monkton, about 10 miles north of Shawan Road. Nearest landmark is the bike crossing at the NCR trail. 

Why: ecause you love to breed, race or ride horses, or love someone who does. Also, because you appreciate the Shaker aesthetic,  “’tis a gift to be simple.” Here, it’s all about the luxury of fine design and materials, as opposed to giant columns and acres of granite.

Why Not: “Goodbye, city life!” For an urban or suburbanite, this location is pretty far out there.  Forget to pick up the milk, and you’ve got a good long haul ahead of you, unless the picturesque little store in tiny Monkton village happens to be open. Good new is, your only 10 miles from Dover Saddlery, and 4 miles to the Manor Tavern, the local watering hole. 

Would suit: Stylish but serious horseman.   


 

Jenna Bush’s House Sits on the Market

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Remember when newlyweds Jenna Bush Hager and husband Henry lived here for ten minutes? Well, Baltimore has been left with a token of its brush with presidential fame. The couple’s cast-off Federal Hill home has been sitting on the market for six months. There is something comforting in the knowledge that being the daughter of the most powerful man in the world does not shield you from the doldrums of a weak housing market. 

The three bedroom townhouse is lovely: all charming parts exposed and all yuck parts redone. (Great master bath!) It seems ideally poised to attract Federal Hill seekers: young, upwardly-mobile and…oh, for God sakes, you know who I mean! The real bonuses here might be the “sea-grass rugs and decorative touches.” With Jenna’s resources, they are sure to be the best. One could also assume the security system is top notch. Check out her multi-culti artwork, fabrics and accents. (Click here for pics.) No doubt an aesthetic garnered during her African travels. These worldly touches are well mixed with a fresh decor that speaks to Jenna’s spunky, southern, sorority girl persona (notice the gaggle of requisite “school days” photos). Picture her, a little tipsy, adorably burning the chicken at her first “grown-up” dinner party. You know it happened. 

The home at 1345 Charles Street was purchased by the Hagers for $440,000 and is now selling for $449,000. Why the move? Well, the Wall Street Journal reported that perhaps, it was because their bikes were stolen. Um, really? If folks were so easily run out of their homes, no one would live below Lake Avenue. More plausible is the rumor that the couple found Baltimore, shall we say, underwhelming. (I hear she hated it.) That, combined with Jenna’s new Today Show gig made New York a more suitable choice. Luckily, Henry’s job presented no obstacle. He was able to secure a lickety-split transfer to New York with his employer, Constellation Energy. Funny how that works when you are him. Let’s hope that the Hagers are happy in the Big Apple and let’s hope that their former love nest makes a nice home for a new pair of yuppies for a couple of years…until they have a kid and move to Homeland.

Homeland on the Lakes

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HOT HOUSE: 5215 Springlake Way, Baltimore, 21212

Stucco house with stone walls, overlooking the lakes in Homeland plus an additional side lot: $899,000

What: A north Baltimore classic – 1930 center hall Colonial, beautifully landscaped and solidly built.  One of Homeland’s top tier homes, with an old-world feeling that comes from the hillside setting and stonework. Formal, good sized living and dining rooms, one on each side of the center hall, with wood floors and crown molding.  Pretty sunroom with terrazzo floor and French doors leading out to the gardens. Kitchen at the back is unusually small, but well-designed and appointed with Bosch dishwasher and Wolf range. Breakfast room and butler’s pantry could all be combined and extended into a large kitchen, but as the realtor points out, you would lose the view of a charming, sunny stone patio. Upstairs is a good size master bedroom suite, and the nicely finished third floor would be a great area for kids, with storage and office space. Five bedrooms, three full and two half baths. Grounds are worth a spot on the garden tour, especially a terraced vegetable garden. Two car garage with automatic opener and an attractive cottage-y garden shed. The additional side lot lends privacy as well a luxurious feeling of space. Views of Homelands famous “lakes.”   

Where: The heart of Homeland, the neighborhood designed by the Olmstead Brothers in 1924, after Guilford and Roland Park. Homeland is north of Coldspring Land, bordered by Charles Street on the west and York Road on the east. 

Why: Nice city living, very much a neighborhood. Tree-lined streets, a short drive to private schools, Belvedere Square, Charles Street and Roland Park shops.  

Why Not:  Homeland has strict neighborhood standards. If you’re thinking about growing a meadow or owning large numbers of dogs/cats, this is not the place for you. 

Would Suit: law-abiding executive family, gardeners, Europeans.

Aerophare No Match for Reality of the Inner Harbor…

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Two Sundays ago, we met some friends from Charlottesville at the Inner Harbor. They were in Baltimore to help their son, a college junior, find housing for an internship with the Orioles this summer.
They arrived on Saturday with only five hours to follow up on all leads gathered before coming to Baltimore. They weren’t about to miss a minute of an O’s game. They went to several places in Federal Hill. They went to Fells’ Point. They were headed to Bolton Hill, when they sent a message to the woman whom they planned to meet on Eutaw Place. She sent a message back asking them to come a half an hour later than planned. She said she needed to go add minutes to her phone card.
The father of the college student is a psychiatrist. His business is understanding people. The message about the phone card sent up a flag in his mind. He tried to withhold judgment. Fifteen minutes later she sent him a second message, but this message was intended for someone else. In it she said she’d gotten more credit and asked where she should hide “the stuff.”
At that point the father sent a message cancelling the appointment. He also sent another message to his older son, a fanatic of “The Wire.”. 
We can try to add an “aerophare” and other attractions to the Inner Harbor, but it’s hard to erase the reality of surrounding Baltimore. 

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