Developer reworks carriage house plan

The developer who attempted last year to raze four historic carriage houses in Mount Vernon to make way for condominiums is back with new ideas for Morton Street.

Developer Howard Chambers would still demolish one of the four diminutive buildings he owns along the alley, and the rear portions of two others. But, acknowledging the overwhelming public criticism of his initial plan, he would save all of a fourth structure and build about 30 condos above it all.


"I would call it a preservation project with a residential addition," Chambers said. "We took what the neighborhood has been saying, about the height and historic preservation" and came up with this plan.

Chambers sought city approval last fall to raze the former carriage houses, garages and stables at 1012 to 1020 Morton St. On the cleared site, he hoped to build a 50- to 60-unit condominium building with a parking garage and ground-level retail shops.


He floated the plans just weeks after Baltimore's historic preservation board approved a list of Mount Vernon properties deserving of protection. All four Morton Street properties were on the list.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Baltimore's planning director Otis Rolley III supported the demolition. They encouraged the construction of the new tax-base enhancing homes, which they said would help get more people on the streets of Mount Vernon - one of Rolley's long-standing goals.

At the time, Rolley said razing the carriage houses wouldn't hurt Mount Vernon's historic feel. But now he says the revised plan would be better for the neighborhood.

The new plan not only limits the demolition and scales back the number of condos, it also cuts more than half of the parking - from 100 spots down to about 44. Chambers said the highest point of the condo building would be under 100 feet.

"I think it works a heck of a lot better than the old one did," Rolley said. "It seems to be a lot more respectful of the historic character and nature of Morton Street."

Chambers' revision, however, still involves demolishing a building on the protected list - and tearing down parts of two others.

Being on the list does not preclude a building's demolition; it only makes it more difficult. Chambers would have to prove to the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation that the buildings he wants to raze are an economic hardship to maintain.

Complicating things further, to make tearing down protected buildings less attractive to developers, the city prohibits the replacement of the razed structures with bigger, ostensibly more profitable buildings.


Because Chambers wants to do just that, CHAP would potentially have to remove at least one of the buildings from the months-old protected list.

CHAP is slated to review the plans tomorrow.

"He still has a lot to prove to the commission," Rolley said of Chambers.

Fred Shoken, who compiled the preservation list for CHAP, said the building Chambers would take down is "the least valuable of all the buildings." Yet he still thought it belonged there.

"It was always borderline," Shoken said. "And now I guess it's going to come to the hard decision."

Though Baltimore Heritage and other preservationists were poised to protest the more extensive demolition plan before Chambers withdrew it at the last minute, this time the developer's strategy seems to be getting a better reception.


Walter Schamu, an architect who not only helped renovate the Morton Street carriage houses but based his firm in one of them, applauds the new plan.

"That's probably a very reasonable solution to the problem," he said. "That would save the best parts of the block."

Chambers hopes the board will be just as accepting.

"I think we've hit everything that everyone wants, which is nice," he said. "Especially with all the stuff we went through last year."