Photo by Ethan McLeod

The city has ordered a New York-based property firm to pay a $463,772 in penalties after a contractor’s surprising unauthorized demolition of Upton’s historic former St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum building.

Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development spokeswoman Tania Baker said the penalty from her department “has already been applied to the property for the demolition without proper permits.” The owner, identifiable in state records as 1411 Division Street LLC, “will have to address the permit surcharge” before it can receive any other city permits for work on the site, she said. A stop work order is also in effect.

Housing and Community Development is still investigating the late February teardown, Baker said. They’re not alone. The Maryland Department of the Environment’s Air and Radiation Administration is also “aware of the matter and investigating,” spokesman Jay Apperson wrote in an email.

Notices from MDE, shared by Apperson, charge both 1411 Division Street LLC and its Baltimore-based contractor, TCG Development Inc., with violating state regulations for removing asbestos and inspecting properties and notifying regulators before any removal project.

Each of the four violations is subject to potential civil penalties of up to $25,000, though Apperson noted fines have not yet been assessed, and “no decision has been made regarding any future actions.”

Councilman Eric Costello, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, on Tuesday night shared details on social media about the fine against 1411 Division Street LLC.

Regarding the recent demolition at 1411 Division St, the site of the former Saint Vincent’s Infant Asylum / Carver Hall Apartments in @HistoricUpton, please see the attached statement from @bmoredhcd:

— Eric Costello (@CouncilmanETC) April 18, 2018

In the meantime, what remains of the former St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, which Baltimore Heritage says first opened in 1860, is mortar and metal, visible above an eight-foot-tall wooden fence.

Records indicate 1411 Division Street LLC is owned by Michael Chetrit, a New York-based real estate developer who registered the firm in March 2016. His company bought the building for $866,400 three months later.

The firm has since forfeited its license, however, according to Maryland business records, because it failed to file a property return for 2017.

Chetrit shares the name of the Chetrit Organization, which has a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio in New York City. He has not responded to a message inquiring about the $463,772 surcharge or his plans for the property.

Chetrit’s firm itself did not demolish the building, but TCG Development Inc. (full name The Culler Group) did. Housing and Community Development records show the business received a permit in November 2017 to “remove exterior walls that were fire damaged,” but not to completely demolish the structure.

But TCG Development went further, and even archived the demolition on social media. (One since-deleted Facebook post read, “We’re bringing this baby down!!! Tear the roof off the MothaSucka!”)

Marti Pitrelli, a neighbor who serves as a community liaison to the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, took photos of the remains–a pile of bricks and other rubble spilling out onto the street—that made the rounds online.

TCG Development’s principal, William Culler, told Baltimore Fishbowl in February that his company had been subcontracted to work on the building. They received a stop work order Saturday, Feb. 24, two days after his crews had commenced demolition, he said, declining to comment further.

Visible remnants of the old white façade. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

In mid-April, the rubble pile is tidier, protruding from behind its blue-painted protective fence along W. Lafayette Street. Some pieces of the razed structure’s white façade are still visible. The surrounding sidewalks are clean, per city orders.

Rodney Jackson, who lives several doors down from the site’s eastern corner on Lafayette Street, on Monday night recounted watching the demolition. He said he was skeptical at the time as to whether demo crews had the proper permits to knock it all down.

“I asked the guy that was doing the bulldozing, ‘Are you all sure you’re supposed to be tearing it down?’” he recalled. His response, Jackson said: “Yeah, yeah, we know what we doing.”

In its first life, the building served as housing for dependent children and women, as well as the Catholic nuns who lived there until 1934, according to Baltimore Heritage’s website.

The orphanage was converted in 1941 into the Carver Hall Apartments, which subsequently served as affordable housing for mostly black tenants for more than seven decades. The building weathered at least two major fires, one when it was occupied in 1978 and another while vacant in 2015. The latter blaze destroyed the roof and much of the interior.

While the property rests in a National Register of Historic Places-protected district, the federal designation does not protect it from development. The building sat just outside of the CHAP Marble Hill District. Such districts require developers to adapt buildings while preserving their exteriors or historic features.

Shortly after the February demolition, Baltimore Heritage executive director Johns Hopkins lamented that the asylum building “came down without anybody evaluating whether it could have been saved or not.”

The property’s future remains unclear. Tax records say its intended use was an apartment complex. Under Transform Baltimore, the city’s new zoning law, the site is zoned R-8, for a “traditional form of urban rowhouse” and “continuous rowhouse development” lining a full block “built to or only modestly set back from the street,” as well as “other residential types of a similar density” and “limited non-residential uses.”

Pitrelli, Upton’s community liaison for CHAP, wrote in an email that she “had high hopes” the owner would renovate the former St. Vincent’s building into new apartments. She said “whatever eventually goes in, I hope and expect that the owner will engage the neighborhood in the process.”

“Of course, having an unappealing, precariously positioned and possibly toxic demolition site is very detrimental to the progress of Marble Hill,” she noted. “It strikes fear and panic into my heart that I might awake to other buildings suffering the same fate.”

Asked what he would like to see go there, Jackson, who lives almost next door, suggested a center for the neighborhood’s disadvantaged children.

“I would like to see something positive done with it since they tore it down,” he said.

“You can’t rebuild it,” he added. “Not the way it was.”

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

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...

2 replies on “Owner of razed historic Upton building—and contractor who tore it down—face costly penalties over surprise demolition”

  1. Stiff penalty but still might be the price of doing business. If you really want to send a message, order them to rebuild, like the English did with that pub a year or so back.

  2. I like that idea that buildings would have to be rebuilt. I would like to see the recently demolished Lillie Carroll Jackson’s Freedom House rebuilt by Bethel Ame Church.

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