Critten House project worries neighbors

Hampden resident Sharon Price walks on the campus behind the historic Crittenton House on May 12. Price and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke plan to attend a Maryland Histoical Trust hearing on the issue Jun 6 in Calvert County. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / May 11, 2013)

The good news for critics of a plan to develop the old Crittenton Home for Girls in Hampden is that the Maryland Historical Trust will hold a pubic hearing June 6 on whether to modify an easement that prohibits new construction on the site.

The bad news is that the statewide hearing is in Calvert County, a nearly two-hour drive from Baltimore.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she and Sharon Price, a neighbor of the Crittenton site, are planning to attend the hearing. Both oppose the development of 19 townhouses on the 2.5-acre site and the conversion of the house to 11 apartments.

Clarke said the Maryland Historical Trust has agreed to let her testify at the hearing.

The Hampden Community Council will publish a letter of community opposition to the project in the June edition of its monthly newsleter, Hampden Happenings, officials announced at the council meeting May 20.

A Maryland Historical Trust easement on the site prohibits new construction. The trust would have to waive that restriction in order for developer John Brooks to proceed with his plans for the old house.

Petitions to keep the prohibition in place are available through Clarke's office at City Hall. The petition form states, "We the undersigned petition the Maryland Historic Trust to please KEEP CRITTENTON GREEN! The Crittenton Home site is important for its historic Carroll Mansion and for the parkland on which it is located. Please continue to prohibit any new construction and preserve the historic parkland along with its mansion."

Clarke has written her own letter to the trust, asking that the prohibition remain in effect.

"We love this site but fear that, along with the loss of precious greenspace, new development will permanently harm the fragile quality of our lives in the Crittenton community," the May 13 letter states.

The letter invites trust board members to visit the site at 3110 Crittenton Place, because, "Being there affords a whole new perspective," the letter states.

Price and other neighbors of the property say Brooks' plan would make their already dense, congested streets even worse. Six of the proposed townhouses would face Elm Avenue; 13 would front West 32nd Street.

Clarke said residents want to keep the property as is.

The deteriorating house was built in 1845, overlooking Mount Vernon Mills — now Mill Centre, a complex of 90 artist studios and other businesses — and was originally the home of David Carroll, the mill owner.

The site in 1925 became the Florence Crittenton Home for Girls, part of the Florence Crittenton Mission, a network of 76 homes in cities nationwide and internationally for prostitutes and unwed pregnant women. Over the years, several dormitory buildings were added.

The Florence Crittenton Home for Girls later became Florence Crittenton Services. It was closed by the state in 2010, according to a report by city planners.

Brooks, of Sparks, is buying the Hampden property from its owner, Hamilton Bank. He said the house is under contract.

Baltimore City zoning allows for more than 100 residential units, said Tim Hearn, CEO of the Baltimore office of Colliers International, the broker for the sale of the property.

Hearn said the city Planning Department has taken the position that the original house should only be for a single-family home.

The City Council on May 23 is scheduled to decide whether to add the historic house to the city's official landmarks list. It is already on a special city list of preservation-worthy properties.

Although the trust has given its conceptual approval of Brooks' plans, Clarke and many residents fear the effect on traffic and parking in a section that they say already has a glut of townhouses, warehouses, and commercial businesses, plus a book bindery, a machine shop and Mill No. 1, a soon-to-open mixed-use development.

But Brooks argued, "The historic structure needs a lot of work, and the way you pay for that is you build town houses."

The city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has not reviewed Brooks' proposal, because Brooks has not submitted an application, said Kathleen Kotarba, CHAP's executive director.

Price counts 129 businesses and 145 residences in the two-block area around the historic site.

"I don't see this project succeeding," she said in an interview earlier this month. "I just don't see this as a good fit."

Price in that interview called for the trust to hold public meetings about the easement, so that residents could have their say.

The trust board will meet in the Maryland Archeological Laboratory's main conference room, on the grounds of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, 10515 Mackall Road, in St. Leonard.