An artist’s rendering of the property, courtesy of PI.KL Studio
An artist’s rendering of the property, courtesy of PI.KL Studio

A developer will proceed with plans to build an apartment building with nearly 80 units on Clipper Road in Woodberry, but will preserve a pair of historic 1840s stone mill houses as part of the design, according to an architect working on the project.

The design that CLD Partners is now moving forward with entails “integrating the structures within the building itself,” said Kuo Pao Lian, co-founder and principal of PI.KL Studio, which CLD has contracted for the project, in an interview Thursday. The plan is to turn them into amenities or retail.

CLD and PI.KL presented several designs to the Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel (UDAAP) at a hearing this morning, one of which would have “set the [apartments] back almost east of the buildings, as much as possible,” and another that would have razed both of the structures while reincorporating the leftover stone into the new design, Lian said. The third option, shown above, preserves the homes, striking “a balance between the two extremes.”

“This, we felt, was one that would accommodate the concerns about losing the two structures.”

The preliminary design is for four stories, 70 to 80 units—most of them studio apartments and possibly a few one-bedrooms—and about 22 parking spaces on the property, Lian said. The specifics could shift as the project advances toward development. “It’s a very early stage of the design.”

The news, first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal (paywalled), should bring some relief to historic preservationists and neighbors who’ve been fighting to keep the mill homes at 3511-13 and 3523-25 Clipper Mill Road intact, rather than see them erased entirely to make way for new construction.

Locals cried foul last week upon learning that CLD Partners, helmed by developer Christopher Mfume, had begun tearing down additions to the properties after obtaining a demolition permit from the city, and was planning to knock down both buildings on June 15. Many learned about it via social media, from a photo taken by Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance chair Nathan Dennies of demolition signs posted outside the properties.

While the neighborhood is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is not a historically protected district with the Commission for Architectural and Historical Preservation, meaning its buildings are unshielded from development.

Baltimore Heritage executive director Johns Hopkins had pointed out that Baltimore has lost very few of its stone mill homes built for entire villages of factory workers in the mid-19th century. He wrote in an email on June 5 that the stone houses “are at the heart of [Woodberry’s] historic importance.”

Reached on Thursday, Hopkins said he had not yet seen the plan presented to UDAAP, and thus could not comment on the design.

Dennies celebrated the change in plans.

“A week ago we were looking at the prospect of these 170+ year old buildings coming down this week,” he wrote in an email. “To hear that full demolition is off the table is a step in the right direction.”
An artist’s rendering of the property, courtesy of PI.KL Studio
An artist’s rendering of the property, courtesy of PI.KL Studio

Mfume, who could not be reached for comment this afternoon, pointed out last week that he had already met with neighbors about his development proposal for the neighboring properties on Clipper Mill Road on May 17. No one had objected to the design that he presented that involved razing the structures, he said.

But when word spread online about the demolition plans, community members protested and asked Mfume to reconsider.

Lian said there was a “reactive base of social media, sort of a firing off of comments. With that in mind, that really sort of pushed the team to say, ‘Let’s go towards the more balanced option, the more integrative option, and try to seek a compromise.’”

Mfume previously noted that building around the stone structures would bring added costs for the project, which could in turn push the rent for his so-called workforce housing apartments—studios, specifically—above his planned threshold of $1,100 to $1,300. Lian affirmed that preserving the stone homes will likely bring extra building costs: “He’s gonna spend quite a bit of money to save the buildings and salvage them.”

The goal for the apartment complex is to capitalize on the existing light rail station, prioritizing biking and mass transit over cars. The area is zoned for transit-oriented development under Transform Baltimore, the city’s new zoning law.

Other development is set to take place nearby, with ValStone Partners eyeing former industrial structures in the Clipper Mill village for as many as four new mixed-use apartment buildings. Developers for both projects maintain that they are completely unrelated.

CLD Partners is planning to present its plans to neighbors at a community meeting on June 19, arranged by the developer, the Woodberry Community Association and Councilman Leon Pinkett. Mfume had agreed last week to postpone any demolition until after the June 19 meeting.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...