Developer plans to build town houses on historic site in Hampden

Standing on a historic site that a developer wants to convert to apartments and town houses are Hampden residents who oppose the project. From left to right are Bert Smith, Shawn McRaney, Bill Burrows, Sharon Price, John McClung and Danny Camac. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / May 11, 2013)

A developer's plan to turn a historic house into townhouses and apartments is sparking consternation among residents, who say their streets are already overly dense and congested.

General contractor John Brooks wants to convert the old Crittenton Home for Girls into 11 apartments at 3110 Crittenton Place, one block west of Chestnut Avenue.

Brooks also proposes to raze a more modern dormitory building on the 2.5-acre property and build 19 townhouses with garages. Six townhouses would face Elm Avenue; 13 would front West 32nd Street.

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.

"It's a really cool property. It's a fantastic property for a small urban development," he said.

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.

However, a Maryland Historical Trust easement prohibits new construction on the property — and that's the way most residents in the Brick Hill section of southern Hampden want to keep it. They said the site, a bucolic, tree-shaded campus should be preserved as much as possible.

"That prohibition would have to be amended out of the easement," Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said. She said most residents at recent meetings about the plan oppose it.

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

The most recent community meeting was April 27, when Brooks presented updated plans — scaled back from his original plan which called for 38 townhouses with garages and 11 condominiums.

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 townhouses."

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.

"Where we are is completing the landmark designation process," Kotarba said.

Clarke said there's no animosity toward Brooks, and she thinks his new plan is preferable to the first one.

"He's a very nice man," Clarke said. "But the people in this community are very concerned about traffic and parking. It wasn't so much negative about this man and his proposal. We really want to keep the site the way it is."