144 (left) and 142 West Fayette Street. Photo by Ed Gunts.
144 (left) and 142 West Fayette Street. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Five vacant buildings near the intersection of Liberty and Fayette streets will be rehabbed to create affordable housing, under a plan approved Tuesday by Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

Sojourner Place at Park is the name of a 42-unit apartment project that will be created within the shells of the buildings at 142 West Fayette Street; 102, 104 and 106 North Liberty Street, and 111 Park Avenue, in Baltimore’s Five & Dime Historic District.

The developer is a joint venture of two non-profits, Episcopal Housing Corporation and Health Care for the Homeless. They are proposing to preserve the exteriors of the buildings to create upper-level apartments, with potential for retail space at street level. The majority of the apartments will be rented as affordable housing, with Moseley Architects as the designer.

Four of the buildings – 142 West Fayette and 102, 104 and 106 North Liberty — are owned by the city of Baltimore and were awarded to the development team after it responded to a Request for Proposals issued by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC). The fifth building, at 111 Park Avenue, is owned by a third party and is under contract to the development team.

The buildings are on the eastern edge of the historic district, where Liberty Street and Park Avenue meet Fayette Street and where the older buildings on the west side of downtown meet the newer buildings of Charles Center.

The Fayette Street buildings are distinctive in that they appear to narrow where Liberty Street and Park Avenue meet Fayette Street. It is an unusual and complicated three-street intersection, reminiscent of the way Broadway, Fifth Avenue and West 23rd Street come together in Manhattan and the resulting angled street grid shapes the Flatiron Building. A somewhat similar three-street intersection in Baltimore occurs where Read and Chase streets meet Howard Street just north of Antique Row.

The building at 111 Park Avenue was once the site of the Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis Electric Railway and then became home of the Equitable Trust Company. Health Care for the Homeless, established in 1985, moved its clinic there in 1991 and remained until 2010, when it relocated to larger quarters at 421 Fallsway.

The team’s plan calls for the demolition of a sixth structure in the historic district, a four-story building at 144 West Fayette Street that dates from the mid to late 1800s and is part of the bundle offered by the BDC. The preservation panel determined in September that it is a contributing structure to the historic district, along with the others on the block.

Caitlin Audette, design planner for the city’s Planning Department, told the commissioners that 144 West Fayette is in poor condition due to “significant moisture and termite damage” and would be costly to renovate. Because it is a long, narrow building that mostly fronts on Park Avenue, she said, it adjoins all of the buildings that are targeted for renovation. By tearing it down, she said, the development team would have better access to the other buildings and wouldn’t need a crane to bring construction materials in and out.  

The developers would then build a replacement structure in lieu of the one that’s torn down, with approximately the same footprint and height as it has, to complete the development, according to Daniel McCarthy, executive director of the Episcopal Housing Corporation. The estimated cost of the project is $19 million to $20 million, he said.

“We believe that the effect of [razing] 144 will allow us to preserve the rest of this block, and that’s important to us,” McCarthy told the commission. “We have come…with a preservation perspective, and we think that we’ve really done that. Unfortunately, we think the only way to really preserve the rest of the block, the other five properties, is to have the impact on 144…We think that we’ve come together with a development proposal that can serve the greatest level of good.”

Kevin Lindamood, president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless and president of its subsidiary, HCH Real Estate Company, said he remembers working in 111 Park Avenue when Health Care for the Homeless occupied it.

“We’re excited to return to the Five and Dime [district] through a housing lens, particularly given that the neighborhood is welcoming of affordable housing, even as it begins to see significant redevelopment,” he told the panel.

“Our residents will be able to enjoy close proximity to the elements of the sustainable community – city services; public transit; pharmacy and medical services; employment opportunities and, this is huge, grocery, both Lexington Market and the nearby Charles Plaza,” where Streets Market & Cafe has a branch, he said.

Audette said the CHAP staff recommends approval of the developers’ request to demolish 144 West Fayette, because the building is in poor condition and the trade-off is that its demolition will enable the developer to retain five other buildings in the historic district.

Johns Hopkins, president of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group, said his board also supports the developer’s approach as a way of saving the rest of the buildings on the block.

“It is not ideal, from a historic preservation standpoint,” because it doesn’t save all of the buildings on the block, Hopkins said of the plan.

But “we have watched these buildings sit vacant for 25 years, for a generation. We’ve also watched as developer after developer has approached them, tried to put together a financial package to make them work, and failed. What we have here is a different kind of developer, a combination of two non-profit organizations, and I don’t know all of the ins and outs of their financing, but they have access to funding that others did not. What we have today is changing the math that has proved insurmountable for these buildings up to now.”

While Baltimore Heritage doesn’t think this is a perfect proposal, he said, “we think it’s a very good proposal. And we think that this development team, with its track record and its access to funding that’s different than we’ve ever seen, is the very best shot we have for preserving this part of the Five & Dime Historic District that we’re going to have in another generation.”

The panel voted 8 to 0 to approve the project. The next step is for the developers’ architect to present plans for the rehab work on the buildings that won’t be torn down and for the new structure that will replace 144 West Fayette. CHAP’s approval is required before the city will sell the buildings that BDC awarded to the developers. A follow-up hearing has not yet been scheduled but likely will be in early 2024.

Previous affordable housing collaborations between the Episcopal Housing Corporation and Health Care for the Homeless include Sojourner Place at Argyle, an 11-unit community on Argyle Avenue in Upton, and Sojourner Place at Oliver, a 70-unit development that opened last year at 1202 East Preston Street.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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