Developer eyes demolition of two historic mill houses in Woodberry to make way for new apartments

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The outside of 3323-25 Clipper Road. Photo by Nathan Dennis.

Jill Orlov got a bad feeling last week when she saw a demolition contractor surveying the outside of 3511 and 3513 Clipper Road, a combined 19th-century historic stone building. Orlov, an architect-turned-artist, said she approached the contractor to ask what was being planned for the mill home.

“I think it’s coming down,” he responded, Orlov says. She figured he meant just the concrete addition in the rear of the building. “Not all of it,” she asserted.

He told her he was sure it was the whole structure.

The writing is now on the wall, with a sign posted outside 3323-25 Clipper Road listing a scheduled demolition on June 15. In place of that building and a neighboring one at 3511-13 Clipper Road, developer CLD Partners is eyeing a five-story apartment complex with dozens of units of “high-quality workforce housing,” said Chris Mfume, the firm’s managing partner.

“We’re still kind of working through the development plan, but right now it’s around 80 units of workforce housing,” said Mfume, who previously worked for Beatty Development in a tenure that included projects like Harbor Point’s Exelon building and 1405 Point.

Woodberry Station LLC owns both properties, according to state tax records, having purchased them within the last two years. Business records list Woodberry Station’s resident agent as Katherine Jennings, who shares the surname of Larry Jennings Jr.

The latter Jennings is senior managing director of Valstone Partners, which is presently planning to build as many as four mixed-use apartment buildings in neighboring Clipper Mill. All three companies are based out of offices at 300 W. Pratt Street.

Even so, both Larry Jennings Jr. and Mfume said the projects are completely separate from one another. “One-hundred percent unrelated,” Jennings told Baltimore Fishbowl in a curt interview. (He also declined to say what his relationship was to Katherine beyond remarking, “we’re related.” The Baltimore Business Journal reported that they were married in an unrelated October 2017 story concerning the Jennings’ philanthropy.)

Woodberry’s mill homes were built in the 1840s, designed for a company village of workers at the nearby factories. The neighborhood today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But since it’s not designated as a locally protected district by the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), the National Register listing affords it no protection from development.

Given all of its industrial history, some neighborhood residents and preservationists were alarmed to see a tweet on Monday from Nathan Dennies, chair of the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance, announcing that a demolition sign had been posted outside. Some are lamenting the two buildings’ potential demise.

“The stone houses, including the ones that are being proposed to be demolished, are at the heart of [Woodberry’s] historic importance, and only a very few have been lost over the last 175 years,” wrote Johns Hopkins, executive director of the local preservation nonprofit Baltimore Heritage, in an email. “There are not many historic places this much still together, in Baltimore or elsewhere, and it would be a real loss for these two houses to be demolished.”

Dennies pointed to an 1847 Baltimore Sun clip about the then-fresh development. The story described the collection of mill homes as a “a splendid establishment, situated on the brow of a beautiful hill, the slope of which is adorned with tasteful flower gardens, enclosed with neat whitewashed railings.”

“The demolition of these buildings will absolutely affect the historic value and community fabric of Woodberry,” Dennies opined.

Demolition appears to have already begun, according to a Tuesday report from the Baltimore BrewPhotos show the back sides of both buildings have already been torn down, even though Mfume acknowledged he doesn’t yet have a permit to do so.

While many are just learning about this now, the Woodberry Community Association, a neighborhood group representing residents, met with brass from CLD Partners on May 17. According to minutes from the meeting obtained by Baltimore Fishbowl, Mfume shared his vision for the buildings with more than 15 people in the room, none of whom objected.

Minutes state that Mfume mentioned that, assuming the buildings would be razed, a design team would then evaluate whether it could reincorporate the stone into the interior or exterior of the five-story apartment complex. The ground level would be “banked into the hill,” the minutes say; the design would be geared toward commuters, with an emphasis on car-sharing, bike-sharing and pushing dwellers to utilize the nearby MTA light rail stop to get around.

Some residents voiced concerns—largely about the state of the properties—but none protested the project overall, Mfume said on Tuesday.

“We relayed at that time our intentions to demolish them, and there really wasn’t much pushback on that–actually none,” he said.

Orlov lamented that she missed the meeting. So did a number of her neighbors on the nearby blocks of Clipper Road, she says. “We’re hoping that the developers will grant us a meeting before their next step.”

“We just need confirmation from the developers to tell us, ‘We are not tearing them down yet, we are gonna meet with you, we are gonna exhaust all possibilities to save these beforehand,'” she said.

CLD Partners and the WCA have scheduled their next meeting for June 19—four days after the planned demolition, Orlov and Dennies both pointed out. CLD still has not presented a concept plan for the development to the community, though minutes from the May 17 gathering say CLD anticipates it will have one to share at some point between June 11 and June 30.

Mfume said he has heard more from Woodberry residents since the photos of the demolition sign began circulating online. He hasn’t spoken with any neighbors directly, but has gotten “quite a few emails.”

Orlov suggested that if new construction is inevitable for the site, the developers should at least work to to bring the historic mill houses into the design, just in case someone wants to later restore the structures to look like they do now.

“If development is what they’re after and we can’t fight that, then that’s one thing,” she said. “But incorporate these structures as intact whole structures…so that somebody with a bigger heart might come and save this community and turn them back into what they were. Don’t tear them down just to stones.”

Mfume said that while it’d be possible, it would make the project a far more expensive undertaking. That would effectively raise rents for potential future tenants, which is counterintuitive to his goal of building affordable apartments.

“Leaving those buildings definitely raises the cost to build to the point where the rents raise as well,” he said. Doing so would therefore leave the entire project in question, he said.

Asked about residents’ concerns about the historic value of the mill houses to the community, Mfume said he had no comment.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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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 Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Ethan McLeod

    Martin Azola here. I’m a member of the Maryland Historical Trust Board of trustees, and my business has been the historic preservation of buildings in Baltimore.
    From what I’ve read, its terribly unfortunate that the owner seems not to be aware of design criteria for sensitive infill development in historic districts. Removing the very fabric that defines the area is no way to go. I do hope that the panel rejects his proposed plans.
    That said, I would make myself available to coach him should he care to. I’m trying to retire, but this is important.
    Respectfully, Marty Azola
    [email protected]
    http://www.azolainc.com

  2. You’re kidding me right? Mr Mfume may have good intentions, though honestly I question any developer’s intentions outside of profit. He sites “affordable housing.” 1300 a month for a studio is not affordable. So drop the charade and incorporate the buildings.

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