Ever since Baltimore officials chose a team to redevelop 18 city-owned properties along Howard, Lexington and Fayette streets, the $100 million project has been characterized as a mixture of historic preservation and new construction.
Next week, the developers will meet with Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) to see which properties the panel will allow them to alter or tear down to make way for their project, called The Compass.
The May 9 public hearing is a sign that the selected team, Westside Partners LLC, is moving ahead with its development plans, more than two years after it was chosen by former Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young over five other “responsive proposals” submitted after the city sought developers in March 2019.
When he announced his selection of the team just before leaving office in the fall of 2020, Young hailed the project as a key to revitalization of the west side of downtown Baltimore, with preservation as a guiding principle. Baltimore’s Board of Estimates approved a land disposition agreement with the developers on Dec. 2, 2020, giving them exclusive rights to work on the project.
The Compass parcel is bounded roughly by Lexington, Howard and Fayette streets and Park Avenue – the heart of Baltimore’s traditional shopping district. The proposal selected by Young called for a mix of existing buildings and new construction to contain apartments, offices, a hotel, parking, street-level retail space and other uses.
The sale price to Westside Partners is $4,500,001. The development team includes Christopher Janian of Vitruvius Company; Jayson Williams of Mayson-Dixon Companies, and Partnered of Pittsburgh. Another local development team, Jon Pannoni and George Watson of Landmark Partners, left the team more than a year ago. Gensler has been announced as the lead architect.
As part of the review process required before the city will sell the properties, the developers must show a final design and construction phasing plan. Because the parcel is within the city’s Five and Dime Historic District, an area where CHAP is authorized to review proposals for exterior building changes up to and including demolition, they are asking CHAP to determine whether seven of the 18 city-owned properties are deemed contributing structures to the district.
The structures that will be considered by CHAP on May 9 are: 220, 222, 224 and 226 W. Fayette St., and 101, 105 and 107 N. Howard St.
Other properties in the city-owned parcel awarded to Westside Partners include: 201-213, 215-219, 223, 227 and 231 W. Lexington St.; 117, 119 and 121 N. Howard St.; 206-218 W. Fayette St.; 221 Marion St.; portions of 106-112 Park Ave., and three public alleys.
If CHAP determines that a building is not a contributing structure in the historic district, it will not block plans to demolish it, although it will review plans for any replacement structure.
If CHAP determines that a building is a contributing structure, according to its guidelines, it will hold a second hearing to decide whether the panel will allow the developers to raze all or part of it, and what would be constructed in its place. The developers will then take CHAP’s decision into consideration as they develop a final design for the project. According to preservation planner Stacy Montgomery, CHAP will consider the seven buildings one by one.
Renderings released by the development team show a project with existing buildings along Lexington, Howard and Fayette streets, with taller new buildings behind or beside them. In some cases, the front sections of older buildings appear to be preserved, with new structures rising behind them.
One structure that is retained in the latest renderings is the four-story Read’s Drug Store at the southeast corner of Howard and Lexington streets. Built in 1934, it was the site of a 1955 civil rights protest in which Morgan State College students challenged Read’s policy of not serving black people at its lunch counter. The students’ protests prompted Read’s to change its policy and begin serving all customers at its lunch counters citywide.
Hendler Creamery back up for discussion
At the same meeting on May 9, CHAP will again consider plans to demolish the former Hendler Creamery at 1100 E. Baltimore St.
Designed by Jackson Gott and others and constructed in 1892, the building initially helped power the city’s then-fledgling cable car system and was converted to a theater in 1903. In 1912, the Hendler Ice Cream Company turned it into the country’s first fully-automated ice cream factory. Hendler remained in business until the 1970s.
CHAP voted 8 to 3 on March 14 that the building, partially gutted by a developer and supported with steel bracing, was not a contributing structure to the city’s Jonestown Historic District. The decision presumably paved the way for a prospective purchaser, the Helping Up Mission at 1029 E. Baltimore St., to raze the building for green space.
The vote was protested by two local preservationists, Fred Shoken and Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, largely on the grounds that CHAP didn’t follow its own rules in determining whether the creamery contributed to the historic district.
Shoken and Shapiro, who are married, argued that CHAP is supposed to follow a two-step process for demolition permit applications in which it first holds a public hearing solely to determine whether a building in question contributes to a historic district.
If CHAP determines that a building is a contributing structure and the applicant still wants to raze it, according to its policies, the panel then holds a second hearing to review plans for what would replace the contributing structure, and to learn if retaining the contributing structure would pose a financial hardship to the owner.
Shoken and Shapiro contended that CHAP didn’t follow its procedures because the panel members didn’t restrict their first hearing to a discussion of whether the building contributed to the larger district. They say the panel members also talked about the proposed use of the site in the first hearing, when that discussion is supposed to be reserved for the second hearing.
The protesters also said a video of the two-hour hearing had a lengthy gap, making it difficult to follow the discussion and understand the staff’s reasoning for recommending that the building did not contribute to the historic district. Shapiro said she was disappointed that no representative from Baltimore Heritage, a citywide preservation advocacy group, attended the March meeting.
CHAP’s agenda for its May 9 meeting states that it will hold a hearing to consider a “Demolition Application for Hendler Creamery.” It does not state whether the agenda item is considered a rehearing of the step-one meeting or a step-two hearing or both, or whether the March decision no longer stands. CHAP executive director Eric Holcomb did not respond a request for clarification.
CHAP’s meeting is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. in the seventh floor meeting room at 417 E. Fayette St. The Hendler Creamery hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. and the Compass hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.