City contractors accidentally knocked down a Riverside rowhouse Sunday as they attempted an emergency demolition on a property with a shared wall.
After receiving complaints from neighbors about a bowing exterior wall and a crack between the two rowhouses, city inspectors deemed the property at 212 E. Fort Ave. unstable, the Baltimore City Department of Housing said in a statement late Monday.
The Housing Department said that on Saturday it condemned and called for the emergency demolition of the three-floor rowhouse, which is owned and being redeveloped by TD Development, which does business as Charm City Builders.
But as city contractors began to pull down the building Sunday afternoon, part of a brick wall on the third floor toppled onto the roof of the adjacent rowhouse at 214 E. Fort Ave., a former pet shop called the Laundry Mutt that was slated to be redeveloped by another owner.
A video filmed by a neighbor shows 214 E. Fort Ave. partially collapsing in a matter of seconds, sending up waves of dust and debris.
"We were like, 'Oh my God!'" said Lauren Singer, who lives across the street and whose fiance caught the incident on video.
No one was injured, but city officials subsequently condemned the accidentally damaged building. Contractors were clearing the site Monday.
Baltimore Department of Housing said in its statement it "is currently investigating what happened at 214 E. Fort Avenue."
"If a property presents an imminent danger, Baltimore City will take whatever action is necessary to protect the public, including emergency demolition," said Tania Baker, a spokeswoman for the Housing Department, in a statement. "Precautions are always taken with adjacent properties, in this case ensuring that it was unoccupied."
Attached buildings are "routinely demolished without incident," Baker said.
K&K Adams, the Baltimore company contracted by the city to demolish the building, did not respond to a request for comment.
Tyler Banks, the owner of TD Development and Charm City Builders, said he is working with the city to determine what went wrong to make the rowhouse it was redeveloping unstable. He said work on the project was being done to code, with proper permits.
Banks said he met with city inspectors Saturday, when they determined the building was unsafe and needed to be taken down immediately.
Banks said he learned that the demolition also destroyed the neighboring building late Sunday.
"I was there until about 2 in the morning, just worried about the whole situation, just wanting to make sure everyone was safe," Banks said.
Banks founded TD Development in 2008 to pursue a passion for renovating old homes and said he was devastated by the news. Banks told The Baltimore Sun in 2013 that the company expected to sell about 35 homes that year; about two dozen homes were listed for sale on its website Monday, including the property at 212 E. Fort Ave.
The listing described what it called "a larger-than-average Federal Hill unicorn rowhome" as "under construction." It was a "unicorn" because of its size, location, off-street parking and roof deck, the listing said. Plans called for a four-bedroom, 41/2-bath makeover to be completed by August and priced in the "mid 500s."
"I take a lot of pride in the work we do, so for me, the last thing I'd ever want to see is something like this happen," Banks said.
Joseph Rene, the owner of the accidentally demolished 214 E. Fort Ave., is taking the incident in stride.
He watched from the sidewalk Monday as a work crew cleared the brick, metal and wood piled where the two buildings once stood.
"We'll rebuild it," said Rene, who is CEO of Metropolitan Asset Management, a Virginia-based development and investment firm. "We have no other option."
He said he bought the property recently for $160,000 cash, with plans to turn it into a three-level single-family home.
Rene said he had noticed the issue with the wall and mentioned it to workers on site, but that he was never notified that the neighboring building was being demolished.
Neighbors said they weren't notified, either.
"I came out here to ask. They said, 'Yep,'" said Diana Novak, who lives opposite the properties on Fort Avenue.
The Housing Department notifies neighbors about planned demolitions, but notification is not always possible in emergency demolitions, said Baker, the Housing Department spokeswoman.
Police stood guard outside the property Saturday night, to keep people away, Singer said.
The next day about 1 p.m., neighbors gathered on the sidewalk and at their windows to watch as a work crew started to tear down the condemned property, she said.
"We stayed inside because we knew there was going to be a ton of dust, but there were a lot of people out watching," Singer said.
Novak slept through the tear-down but had seen the crack, which she estimated to be several inches wide at its fullest, and said she knew the city would have to demolish it.
"Everybody kind of knew what was going to happen," she said.