Change Comes to Charles Village and Waverly--But Whose Vision Will Prevail?

by Alice Cherbonnier
     THE 10 TOWNHOUSES on the northwest corner of 25th Street and North Charles still stand. They were to have been demolished at year’s end to make way for a CVS drugstore, but Charles Village activists, calling themselves the Committee for Responsible Development on 25th Street, requested and received a reprieve to study alternatives to destroying the century-old townhouses. The reprieve was granted by the developer, Baltimore-based Trout Segall and Doyle, Inc., and their tenant, CVS.
     The fate of the buildings will become more clear on Thursday, March 4, when the developer, property owners, and Committee members meet with CVS real estate vice president Dominic Chavone.
     At that meeting, the Committee will formally present the neighborhood’s proposed alternative solution for the site, which would retain portions of the six 25th Street townhouses. It calls for small business tenants on the building’s lower level, with entries on 25th Street. Drawings of the plan were submitted to all parties earlier; this time particulars will be discussed.
     The plan was developed by architect Calvin Kern Kobsa,who was brought into the planning process by the Neighborhood Design Center, which offers technical architecture and landscape design assistance to nonprofits and community groups.
      “We wanted to avoid the ‘classic suburban strip mall architecture’ look,” explained Sheila Rees, president of the Charles Village Civic Association.
     She gives high marks to everyone involved in the negotiations. “People have been very forthcoming throughout this process,” she said. “We might oppose demolition, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want CVS in the neighborhood. Everyone has been acting professionally, and in very good faith.”
     Doug Armstrong, head of a Charles Village-based building products company called Resource Conservation Technology and chair of the Committee, says, “It’s been a long back-and-forth” to get the proposal together. He said CVS encouraged the Committee to send their alternative plan to their Rhode Island headquarters, even though the developer and property owners had indicated they were not interested in it.
     In addition to working on the plan, the Committee has developed information for CVS to show it would be more cost-effective to do whatever demolition is called for by hand, rather than by large equipment like cranes. “It’s cheaper and faster,” said Ms. Rees, “plus the bricks could be saved and re-used.”
     Rees, Armstrong and others working to retain the architectural integrity of this key city intersection take hope from the fact that CVS participated in a National Trust for Historic Preservation meeting held in Washington, DC last fall. “CVS officials pledged that they would re-evaluate their requirements and guidelines if a neighborhood were of historic significance,” said Mr. Armstrong.
     Does Charles Village qualify for such a designation? On the one hand, the affected intersection is included in the “Maryland Main Street” program, which seeks to preserve and revitalize community business districts. But on the other hand, the Main Street program focuses more on business revitalization than on historic preservation.
     CHANGE ALL OVER: This part of the City is in flux. While upscale businesses like Xando are opening near the Hopkins campus, for example, the Waverly business district has suffered two major setbacks: the Superfresh supermarket on Gorsuch Avenue recently closed, and the Provident Bank branch on Greenmount Avenue will be closing on March 19. (The bank has not abandoned the corridor entirely, however; it has opened a new Govans office in the building formerly occupied by First Union Bank.)
     The Maryland Main Street program has made a proposal to the Charles Village Community Foundation, requesting assistance to make the Waverly bank office into a community resource center.
     Then, too, there are three major proposals on the table for redeveloping the 29.5-acre site of Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street, not far away from the Waverly shopping district.
     The Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO)/Presbyterian Homes, Inc., in cooperation with the YMCA and other development partners, propose “Stadium Place,” an affordable retirement community with recreation facilities and doctors’ offices. Their plan calls for demolishing the stadium.
     The Memorial Stadium Partnership, with Willard Hackerman and A & R Development Corporation as principals, would retain the exterior of the stadium and construct within it a 307,000 square foot research and laboratory facility, with related retail services. Affiliates of Johns Hopkins are envisioned tenants.
     Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse, Inc. and MetroVentures propose retaining most of the stadium building, constructing within it a Superfresh supermarket, a 16-screen movie theater, a skating rink, a Bally’s Health Club, a storage facility, and a theme restaurant. They would encircle the stadium with residences ranging in price from $92,000 to $125,000.
     Lively and well-attended community hearings on these proposals have been held, and a selection panel has been formed to go forward with the decision-making. The result is anticipated in “early spring,” according to city officials.
     The selection panel includes community members and staff of three city agencies: the Department of Housing and Community Development, Baltimore Development Corporation, and the Department of Planning.
     A CONSTRUCTION COMPLICATION: Buildings aren’t the only part of the urban fabric. Another change coming for midtown is the announced closing of the Charles Street bridge over the Jones Falls Expressway, with construction work to take two years. This would curtail northbound traffic into the Charles Village community and beyond.
     John Standiford, co-owner of The Charles Theatre at 1711 North Charles Street, took a moment away from overseeing the theater’s major expansion project to express his concern about the plan to close the street altogether. Understandably, he is not pleased. “I wasn’t consulted about it,” he said.
     His neighbor immediately to the north, Everyman Theatre, likewise would find itself isolated from its patrons if the street closing occurs as planned.
     To a lesser degree, because of influx from east-and-west arteries, the isolation would continue all the way up the street.
     While they are able to do so, commuters going up Charles Street might want to take more than a passing glance at the buildings at Charles and 25th Street.
     They may not be able to make that drive again for two years. Who knows what they’ll see on that corner the next time they pass by?
     If Charles Village activists have their way, two years from now Baltimoreans will see what they’ve always seen there--on the outside, at least.

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This story was published on Mar. 3, 1999.