A Baltimore developer is seeking permission to demolish the Eddie's of Mount Vernon grocery store and the neighboring buildings to make way for a mixed-use development on West Eager Street.
On Tuesday, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation determined the buildings at 7-11, 13 and 15 W. Eager St. contribute to the neighborhood's historical significance, temporarily blocking them from demolition.
The move does not kill the project, but rather sets up developer Dennis Richter to return for a second hearing, in which the commission will evaluate the merit of the project and determine whether denying demolition would create significant hardship to the developer.
Richter said he is committed to taking the process to the next step.
"That site specifically is a catalyst to unlock the center of Mount Vernon and encourage economic development," Richter said.
The project would include a ground-floor grocery store and retail, with apartments above and parking below. Additional details about the project, such as how many residential units it would contain, have not been disclosed.
Richter has renovated other properties in the city while preserving their historical integrity, but he said renovating the Eager Street properties would be too difficult and costly. Tearing them down and building new is the best option for transforming the site into a better resource for the community, he said.
"I take the position that a neighborhood should not be static, it should not be a museum," Richter said. "It should be able to grow."
During the hearing, at least a dozen community members spoke in support of the project as a way to reinvest in a neighborhood that some said is struggling to compete with trendier neighborhoods, such as Hampden.
"Eager Street is — pardon the pun — at a crossroads," said Gino Cardinale, a co-owner of City Cafe across the street from Eddie's. Cardinale urged the commission to "carefully consider where we are in Mount Vernon and the imperative to get back to the thriving neighborhood we once were."
Redeveloping the site could encourage other developers to pursue projects in unused lots and draw in new residents, businesses and visitors, he said.
The Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, an area neighborhood group, unanimously supports the project, so long as demolition does not happen until the project has received permits, financing and design approval, said Steve Shen, who chairs the association's architectural review committee.
Shen spoke on behalf of the group's board at the hearing because board president Michele Richter, Dennis Richter's wife, recused herself from any discussions about the project.
Bryan Zorn, the son of Eddie's owner Dennis Zorn, said his family has been working with Richter and wants to be part of the building's next phase.
"I think Dennis can bring something great, and we want to be part of it," he said.
Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit historical and architectural preservation organization, was one of only a few at the hearing who urged the commission to preserve the buildings. He said that while he supported the idea of a "transformational project" in that location, he wanted the commission to adhere to its procedure for determining whether a building in a historic district can be torn down.
Eddie's, the neighborhood's lone grocery store, occupies the space at 7-11 W. Eager St. Built in the late 1800s, the building was used as a stable and auto garage before becoming a grocery store.
Neighboring 13 and 15 W. Eager St., also built in the late 1800s, most recently served as Eden's Lounge, a nightlife venue, and has been vacant since 2013. Richter purchased the property in 2014 for $625,000.
Richter also owns the adjacent lot at the corner of West Eager and Cathedral streets. He bought the former family-owned Comprehensive Car Care in 2015 after it closed following 90 years in business.
Richter said he is in the process of closing on 7-11 W. Eager St.