New apartment project in Mount Vernon would partially demolish 3 historic carriage houses

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A rendering of the proposed apartments, via Chris Pfaeffle of Morris & Ritchie Associates/CHAP

Thirteen years after developer Howard Chambers proposed tearing down all or part of three historic carriage houses in Mount Vernon to make way for new housing, he is back with a different variation of his plan.

Chambers has asked Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to approve a plan to build a six-story, $9 million apartment building at 1012-1020 Morton St., where four carriage houses stand. CHAP will hold a public hearing on the proposal next Tuesday.

According to his CHAP application, Chambers would “incorporate” the carriage houses into the project, meaning he is not requesting to demolish the buildings altogether.

But drawings on file with the preservation agency indicate Chambers plans to tear down all but the front portions of three of the structures at 1014, 1016 and 1018-20 Morton St., while retaining all of the carriage house at 1012 Morton St.

The drawings, by architect Chris Pfaeffle of Morris & Ritchie Associates, appear to show that sections of 1014, 1016 and 1018-20 Morton Street, stretching 15 to 20 feet deep, would be retained, and the rest would be razed to make way for the six-story building, which is referred to in one drawing as an “addition.”

1012-1020 Morton Street. Photo by Ed Gunts.

This is at least the third time Chambers has presented plans to redevelop the four carriage houses on Morton Street. In 2005, he proposed razing all four buildings to make way for 50 to 60 residential condominiums with off-street parking and shops at the street level, but he withdrew his plan after public criticism.

The following year, he proposed to demolish one of the four buildings and the backs of two others to make way for a new structure containing 30 condominiums. According to The Sun, he called the approach “a preservation project with a residential addition.” That project did not move ahead either.

The latest plan calls for a building that would contain 65 apartments, retail space at the street level and 16 parking spaces, according to the plans on file with the city. The approximate cost is $9 million, and the timetable calls for construction to begin this May and finish by May 2020. The property owner is MSP, LLC. Southway Builders would be the contractor. Chambers, the developer, said on his application that he is not seeking tax credits for historic preservation. 

The existing buildings are structurally sound and functional. The building at 1012 is occupied by a fitness center, the building at 1014 is the home of a software company called Vivanda and the building at 1016 was the home of Schamu, Machowski Patterson Architects and Marren Architects until they relocated in 2017. The one at 1018-1020 is a multi-level garage. All help form a solid wall along the west side of Morton Street, a picturesque mews visible from Charles Street with steady foot traffic throughout the day.

CHAP has the authority to review and approve any changes to the exterior of the Morton Street buildings because they are in the Mount Vernon Historic District.

Chambers, who lists his address as Johns Island, South Carolina, has not responded to voicemails requesting comment.

A rendering of the proposed apartments, via Chris Pfaeffle of Morris & Ritchie Associates/CHAP

His proposal is being considered just as Baltimore is getting a new Department of Planning director, who oversees CHAP. Chris Ryer starts on Monday, and this could mark one of his first preservation controversies. 

Chambers’ proposal comes 15 months after developer Dennis Richter received approval from CHAP to tear down the Eddie’s of Mount Vernon grocery store at 7-11 W. Eager Street and the former Eager House restaurant at 13-15 W. Eager Street to make way for a 10-story, $30 million apartment building with commercial space at street level. The property sits less than a block from the Morton Street carriage houses.

Richter asked the panel for permission to tear down the existing buildings, rather than offering to save their facades and incorporate them into his larger development. He went through a two-step demolition review process to argue why the existing buildings were not economically feasible to retain before CHAP approved his project.

Besides the demolition request, Richter asked for permission to build above the height limit for the Eager Street property by 16 feet, and received approval to do so. CHAP said it gave approval in part because the developer had strong support from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, whose president is Richter’s wife, Michele.

According to CHAP director Eric Holcomb, Chambers is not seeking to exceed the height limit for his proposed development on Morton Street. Holcomb said he thought his plan likely would need the zoning board to waive the standard requirement for off-street parking.

Chambers said in his application that he does not believe the project would need a zoning variance.

Representatives for the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association did not respond to questions about whether the group’s board of directors or its architectural review committee have taken a position on Chambers’ proposal.

This is one of the first projects that would compete directly with Dennis Richter’s development. CHAP typically seeks guidance from leaders of the community group that would be most directly affected by a development proposal.

Because Chambers said he intends to incorporate the carriage houses into his larger development, the panel is not treating the project exactly the same way it treated Richter’s proposal, starting with a two-step demolition review.

Holcomb said one issue for the panel to consider is the percentage of each carriage house that would be incorporated into the new project.

He said the commissioners may want to decide if saving a 15- to 20-foot-deep section of the three carriage houses qualifies as incorporating them into the larger development, or whether more of the existing buildings ought to be saved and, if so, how much.

The public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday at CHAP’s offices on the 8th floor at 417 E. Fayette St.

Ed Gunts

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


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4 COMMENTS

  1. With all the vacant lots in this part of the Mount Vernon area, why does he have to build on the site of existing buildings. Once all the parking lots are built upon, than this facadectomy could be considered, but until then … forget it.

  2. I’m all for development but this is awful. To tear down those incredibly charming and historical carriage houses on a very quaint side street is insane. There are MANY other Mt. Vernon locations which need development like this that are currently either vancant lots, or eye sores. A big NO to this.

  3. This is the same property owner who sold his building on Charles Street so it could be torn down and paved over by another developer who has been sitting on it.

    He’s ruined enough of Mount Vernon with his greed. Don’t let him defile three more charming properties.

  4. Our city is a blighted mess, but these characters have to come in and tear down the beautiful parts people like. The community needs to show up whenever there is a hearing and shout, “No!” Like these folks said, there are other lots – use them.

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