Crittenton setbacks approved

A developer wants to build townhouses and apartments on the site of the former Florence Crittenton Home for Girls, in Hampden. (Photo by Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore / March 21, 2013)

The $7 million Crittenton town house project has won city approval for revised zoning variances.

The Baltimore City Municipal Zoning and Appeals Board on Tuesday voted 4-0, with one member absent, to grant variances to developer John Brooks for 15-foot setbacks for some of the 19 town houses he plans to build on the idyllic, 2.5-acre site of the former Florence Crittenton Home, once a house for unwed mothers in Hampden.

Hamilton Bank sold the property, 3110 Crittenton Place, near 32nd Street and Chestnut Avenue, to Brooks earlier this year for $850,000, according to Colliers International, the broker.

Brooks last month sought four variances for 10-foot setbacks, instead of the required 20-foot setbacks, but was rebuffed by the zoning board at a hearing March 25. The board Tuesday granted his scaled-back request for two 15-foot setback variances, according to his land use consultant, Al Barry.

Three of the four voting board members had not heard about the project before Tuesday, because two of the members came on the board since the March 25 hearing, and one member was not present for the March hearing, Barry said.

Brooks wants to convert the historic, Civil War-era Florence Crittenton Home into 11 apartments. He also wants to tear down a more modern dormitory on the site and build 19 three-story, attached town houses with decks and lower-level parking garages on the dorm site.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who has championed efforts by area residents to force Brooks to scale down the project, said she and residents are discussing whether to appeal the zoning board's latest decision.

Residents say the project as planned would be too dense and noisy for the isolated neighborhood of narrow streets and partly industrial use, including a bindery and a machine shop. They also say the project would exacerbate parking problems in the area and that fire trucks and other emergency vehicles would have trouble navigating the streets.

The Maryland Historical Trust, which has an easement on the site, gave its blessing last year for development, and the Baltimore City Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation approved the site plan for the project May 13, Barry said. He said CHAP will meet July 8 to consider final design approval.

Brooks plans to seek subdivision approval by the city Planning Commission this summer, and hopes to break ground by October, Barry said.

Some work has already been done to stabilize the mansion, with CHAP's blessing, Barry said.

Clarke said Wednesday she and residents will ask Brooks to reduce the size of all the townhouses to no more than 18 feet wide and 35 feet deep. As the plan stands currently, some of the townhouses would be as big as 20 by 40 feet.

"We lost (Tuesday). We're disappointed, but we're pushing on," Clarke said. She said reducing the size of the townhouses would negate the need for variances.

Barry said he would not be in favor of that, because it would effectively reduce the homes from 3-4 bedrooms to 2 or would eliminate garage parking.

But he added, "We are interested in continuing a dialog" on design aspects of the town houses.

Last June, Clarke and residents lobbied the Maryland Historical Trust to keep in place an easement that would prohibit new construction on the 2.5-acre site, but the trust's 15-member board voted unanimously to waive the prohibition and allow the construction of 19 townhouses, contingent on the renovation of the historic stone house and the project design being in character with the neighborhood.

In September, Clarke and residents asked Brooks to renovate the mansion before starting townhouse construction and minimize the footprint and height of the townhouses, so as not exceed the dorm building. That would limit the townhouses to two stories and eliminate seven of the proposed townhouses.

Brooks and Barry said no, noting that they had not yet brought any plans to the city.

Several residents stressed to the zoning board March 25 that they are not against development of the property because they realize that something has to be done there. They said they just want it to be downsized and in keeping with the character of the neighborhood,

Clarke told the board then, "We didn't want development. We faced up to it."