CHAP to begin hearings on whether to make Woodberry a historic district

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

Baltimore’s newest designated historic district could soon be the old mill town of Woodberry, depending on the outcome of two upcoming hearings before the city’s preservation commission.

Hearing number one is set for tomorrow afternoon at the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, which meets monthly at 417 E. Fayette St.

Staff preservation planner Walter Gallas said CHAP is formally considering the request after residents voted in a community survey to pursue historic designation. Gallas declined to share the exact margin of the yay-or-nay survey ahead of the meeting, but noted the request “comes with the endorsement of the neighborhood association in hand.”

Sheri Higgins, president of the Woodberry Community Association, said via email that designation could help by adding new architectural guidelines and permit processes “to assure continuation of our unique building stock.”

CHAP-designated areas, of which there are currently 36, require commissioners to approve any changes to building exteriors. Woodberry is among dozens of areas that have national historic district protection, but that doesn’t protect individual buildings from alteration or demolition.

CHAP tried in 2007 to designate Woodberry a historic district, but the effort didn’t have sufficient community support to proceed.

This time around, residents are appealing for the designation months after a development team demolished two 1840s stone houses on Clipper Road to make way for a new apartment building–after repeatedly promising they would retain the structures–and as the same property owner plans to build more apartments further up the road.

In Clipper Mill, a separate developer wants to convert an old tractor storage facility into a 99-unit apartment building, though residents of that community have pushed back, arguing the design is not “historic” enough to be permitted under the language of its planned unit development legislation.

Higgins said there are potential drawbacks to receiving a historic designation for Woodberry, namely that there’s “a cost to the homeowner for better design review and better products” if they’re undertaking work on a building.

Still, she said it could help protect what’s already there. In the case of the razing of the two stone houses, “had the designation been in place, the demo permit would never have been issued.”

“Designation if granted will be a commitment from our community,” she said, “but one that seems to be well supported.”

Gallas said this first hearing on Woodberry’s potential CHAP designation will offer a chance to explain the request and neighborhood history to commissioners. Staff will also present the results of a community survey.

If commissioners opt to proceed with a “deeper study” of Woodberry’s historic district potential, he said, CHAP would schedule a second hearing for the panel to vote on the designation.

CHAP is also holding hearings tomorrow for a proposed three-story building incorporating an original facade in Union Square, two four-story projects in Fells Point and a proposal to add a front basement entrance to a building in Mount Royal Terrace.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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