A rendering of the 10-story apartment building proposed for the site of Eddie’s of Mount Vernon. Credit: Ziger/Snead.
A rendering of the 10-story apartment building proposed for the site of Eddie’s of Mount Vernon. Credit: Ziger/Snead.

Nearly two years after developer Dennis Richter received preliminary approval to construct an apartment building that would exceed the city’s height limit for the property, city officials say he may not need the waiver after all.

Eric Holcomb, director of Baltimore’s preservation commission, told members this month that Richter is now planning to reduce the height of the 10-story apartment building he proposed to construct in place of the Eddie’s of Mount Vernon grocery store and two other structures.

“There has been some value engineering and now it will be one story lower, at least one story lower,” Holcomb told the panel.

As a result, the design “now meets the guidelines” and the preservation panel doesn’t need to revise its regulations in order for the project to move ahead, Holcomb said.

Holcomb and others said the developer may cut up to three floors off the buildings’ height, making it a seven-story structure rather than a 10-story structure, but revised plans haven’t been submitted to the city.

If apartment sizes stayed the same, planners said, the elimination of three floors would bring the unit count to slightly more than 100.

Richter was not at the meeting of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP). He did not respond to a request for information about his project.

The height limit for new construction on the Eddie’s property is 100 feet, according to the Mount Vernon design guidelines. The height of Richter’s proposed apartment building was 116 feet when the design was presented to CHAP on April 10, 2018.

Even though it violated the design guidelines, the preservation panel voted 9 to 0 to give preliminary approval to the 116-foot-tall design, by Ziger/Snead Architects, so Richter could move ahead. At the time, the panel said it did so largely because the community overwhelmingly supported the project.

According to plans shown to Mount Vernon residents in 2019, the building was to contain 165 apartments plus street-level commercial space, and the project’s cost was between $30 million and $35 million. Richter said the grocery store would move to the lower level of the Belvedere condominiums to make way for construction.

The building’s height has been a source of concern because CHAP’s action marked a rare occasion when the panel has voted to approve a proposal that violated its own height limits, and there have been questions whether its decision was legal.

In recent CHAP meetings, Holcomb and chairman Tom Liebel have said that the city’s law department determined the citizens’ panel did not have authority to approve a project that violated the city’s height limit for the Eddie’s site, and therefore could not sign off on a building permit.

“The law department said we should not be approving things that are prohibited,” Liebel told the panel last week.

In response to the law department, CHAP has considered modifying its design guidelines so they would allow a 116-foot-high building on W. Eager Street. One idea was to eliminate the category of proposals currently deemed “prohibited,” and just have two categories: recommended and not recommended.

The panel was due to discuss the matter again at its meeting last week when Holcomb announced the developer’s decision to reduce the number of floors, so the subject was tabled.

Holcomb cautioned that the new changes to the design would need CHAP approval before a building permit is issued.

“They’d have to come back” for review, he said. As far as panel’s process is concerned, “it’s a new building.”

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