City panel approves partial demolition of Mount Vernon rowhouses to expand Loyola School

Dec 15, 2021

 

Jessica Iannetta
Managing Editor
Baltimore Business Journal 

Click here for the article in the BBJ.

A city panel approved plans to turn these rowhomes into an expansion of the Loyola School. A plan to convert a series of rowhouses in Mount Vernon into a Catholic school was approved by a city preservation panel following changes to the design that sought to keep more of the historic buildings intact.

The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, or CHAP, voted 4-0 with two abstentions in favor of the proposal, which sought to demolish the back half of some of the rowhouses in order to construct a three-story rear addition that would allow the Loyola School to expand. As a condition of the approval, the panel requested the school come back to the panel for additional study of how to retain more of the rowhouses as well as continued design development of the addition.

The approval comes after the panel voted down a similar proposal in September that would have demolished the back half of all five rowhouses at 104-112 E. Madison St. — the most recent proposal involved demolishing the rear of just three. 

 Despite the changes to the design, CHAP staff still recommended disapproval of the proposal due to the demolition of the historic buildings. The Mount Vernon Belvedere Association was also against the plan. The project has split the historic neighborhood, with some arguing against any demolition at all of the 1850s-era buildings and others arguing that the school is a positive for the neighborhood and makes sense for the location given the proximity to other buildings owned by the Loyola School.

CHAP Chair Tom Liebel noted that in the revised designs the school had done pretty much everything they could without compromising the plans for the program.

“Fundamentally the question we are faced with here is: are the proposed renovations and demolitions so significant that it will have an incredibly adverse impact on the historic structures or are we at a point where the majority of the building exteriors will be preserved and we can feel comfortable moving forward allowing the program, which is clearly important to the community, recognizing there will be a hit to the historic components of the building?” he said. 

 Opinions on that question varied widely during the nearly two-hour hearing. The project received 38 letters of opposition and 19 letters of support as well as 168 signatures of support. High-profile backers included Comptroller Bill Henry, state Del. Brooke Lierman, Councilman Eric Costello, Councilman Robert Stokes and Goldseker Foundation CEO Matt Gallagher.

Many who testified against the project brought up a situation nearby on Eager Street, where a historic building had to be demolished after it was damaged amid construction at the former Grand Central site next door. While most were not against the school in theory, they lamented that the partial demolition of the rowhomes would be another blow to the historic neighborhood’s character.

“This neighborhood is tired of causes that cause the destruction of historic Mount Vernon properties,” said Christopher Hyde, a neighborhood resident who spoke against the plan.

Joe Lombard, chair of the board of the Loyola School, noted that at least five sites for the expansion were considered but all had “obstacles we could not overcome.”

The location on Madison Street allows the school to be near St. Ignatius Church and the existing preschool. This will give the new school access to existing infrastructure that would be “hard to replicate,” including a commercial kitchen, multi-purpose spaces and an outdoor recreational facility, he said.

He noted that the rowhomes, which were purchased in the 1990s, were always intended to be used in furtherance of the Jesuit mission to help the less fortunate, and selling them for development is not being considered.

For some, the revised designs represent a bit of a truce. Charlie Duff, who said he has worked in Mount Vernon for years and owns property there, said he vehemently opposed the initial designs but is supportive of the most recent iteration after meeting with Loyola representatives. While he would still prefer the school to be located elsewhere, Duff noted the current designs are “better than anything we have seen” and maybe the best offer the neighborhood will get.

“I at least have become convinced that the Jesuits are not going to sell these houses; they’re just going to think of something else to do with them,” he said. “The idea that I had and that many of us in Mount Vernon have had that these houses could become houses again, is something of a pipe dream. “I won’t say that Mount Vernon should welcome it. I’m not hopping up and down over this but the school is good thing.”

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Jessica Iannetta
Managing Editor
Baltimore Business Journal 

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