Two 1804s-era stone buildings in Woodberry are slated to be demolished to make way for a small apartment complex. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Editor’s note: The developer has since backed off plans to demolish the buildings. The original story is below.
Woodberry residents are raising concerns about a developer’s plan to demolish a pair of 1840s-era stone buildings in the neighborhood to make way for an apartment complex.
Developer Chris Mfume said the buildings at 3511 and 3523 Clipper Road would be replaced by a four-story complex with 60 to 80 small units on the sliver of land between the road and the Light Rail tracks.
Mfume, managing partner of CLD Partners, said he is awaiting demolition permits. Notices on the buildings indicate they are scheduled to be razed June 15, but Mfume said he will postpone the complete demolition until after a June 19 meeting with the Woodberry Community Association.
Some residents voiced concerns about the apartment project during the neighborhood association’s May meeting with Mfume, he said, but he was able to talk through their concerns.
Christy Bergland, who lives across the street from the apartment site, was among the neighbors who attended that meeting. Although demolition of the stone houses was presented as an option during the meeting, she said it wasn’t clear that was the final plan.
“I think a lot of us at the meeting were hoping that the stone houses would stay,” she said.
The buildings, part of the Woodberry Historic District, are on the National Register of Historic Places. But that does not protect them from demolition, according to the Baltimore Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation.
Bergland, who has lived on the 3500 block of Clipper Road since 1991, said the houses across from her have been vacant for several years, but she would rather see them rehabbed than bulldozed. She’s also concerned about the size of the proposed building that would take their place.
“Were hoping for compromise and, you know, people are going to build, but we’re hoping something comes around that is to the liking of the community, that is some kind of a very reasonable compromise,” she said. “We want them to save the houses, but if they can’t save all of the houses, to save significant portions of the houses so that still you have a historic feel.”
Mfume said he’s heard more criticism since demolition notices were posted on the buildings. To allay concerns about the project, he said he plans to meet with the community association again this month to discuss the project.
“This is all generally kind of new for me as far as the comments on the stone houses because this wasn’t what I heard at the first community meeting,” Mfume said.
Keeping the historic structures intact would limit the size of the project and raise the cost of rent in the building, something Mfume said he is trying to avoid.
The proposed building would feature mostly studio apartments with a few one-bedroom units, Mfume said. Studio rents would range between $1,100 and $1,300 per month, he said.
A number of neighbors said they missed the initial community association meeting. Brennen Jensen lives with his wife, Jill Orlov, on the 3600 block of Clipper Road. He didn’t attend the May meeting, and said they were caught off guard by the apartment proposal.
“Apparently there are developers sniffing around every nook and corner of his neighborhood,” Jensen said. “It’s like blood in the water up here.”
Jensen has lived in Woodberry since 2009. His wife moved there several years earlier “because she liked the stone houses,” he said.
“I look out my window now and it looks like it could be in England or something,” Jensen said. “Let’s not destroy what draws people here in the first place.”
Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, said in an email that Woodberry is unusual in that the 1840s-era neighborhood remains almost entirely intact; few of the original buildings have been lost.
The Baltimore housing department issued a $464,000 penalty to the owner of a former St. Vincent's Orphanage Asylum in West Baltimore, alleging that the historic building was demolished without permission.
“The stone houses, including the two that are proposed to be demolished, were built to attract workers to the mill back then and are at the core of what gives this mill village its charm and what makes it unique,” he wrote. “Woodberry is Woodberry because of its 175-year-old stone houses and we should do all we can to keep them standing.”
Mfume said part of what drew him to Woodberry was the neighborhood’s character and its proximity to the light rail. He envisions the project as a transit-oriented development, and said the building would include plenty of bike storage, a garage with spaces for car sharing and transit screens showing nearby rideshare drivers.
The complex also would include an observation deck on the top floor. Mfume said the apartments would be outfitted with large windows, and communal spaces would incorporate “thoughtful programming.” PI.KL Studio is the architecture firm for the project.