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In Mount Vernon, a historic preservation fiasco

As historic townhouse waits for demolition, CHAP hopes for replacement building

Still no word on whether the city will impose fines on the owner/developer whose next-door project destabilized 4 East Eager Street

Above: Workers preparing today for demolition of 4 East Eager Street. (Fern Shen)

Baltimore’s preservation chief says he expects a replica to be built of the Civil War-era townhouse that is about to be demolished on East Eager Street after its foundation was undermined by construction at the adjacent City House Charles project.

Asked if Mount Vernon residents should expect an empty “hole” or parking spaces when the site is cleared, Eric Holcomb, executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), said:

“I am hoping that we can work with the owner to get up a replacement building up that looks as much as possible as the original while, of course, following the building code.”

While CHAP cannot force a property owner to build, future plans for the site will need its approval, he told The Brew today. “They will have to come to us at some point, and I hope they will come with plans for a reconstructed building.”

He warned, however, that insurance claims and other legal entanglements could cause lengthy delays before construction could start. “I would counsel patience. There are a lot of lawyers and a lot of things that may slow the process down.”

Both properties are owned by Landmark Partners, but are legally separate owing to different LLCs.

Soon-to-be-demolished 4 East Eager Street is squeezed between a new 10-story structure and the former Marburg Mansion. All three structures are owned, under separate LLCs, by Landmark Partners. (Mark Reutter)

Soon-to-be-demolished 4 East Eager Street is squeezed between the steel beams of City House Charles and the greystone Marburg Mansion. The three properties are owned by Landmark Partners under separate LLCs. (Mark Reutter)

A Cursory Inspection

It was excavation work done for City House on behalf of “LP 1001 North Charles LLC” that caused the historic townhouse owned by “LP 4 East Eager LLC” to shift on its foundation, separating sections of its outer brick walls and raining plaster and lathing into the hallways.

Tenants shaken by crashing sounds and clouds of dust were evacuated from the building, never to return except to pick up their belongings.

That happened on the night of March 24-25. Holcomb and housing officials say they were not aware of the building’s dangerous condition until September 3, when Landmark requested a demolition permit.

Housing and Community Development (HCD) records showed that months before, on April 21, the agency received a citizen complaint that the construction site was “in a state of collapse.”

An inspector went to the address, but after being reassured by builder JP Porter that the property had been backfilled and was waiting an engineer’s report, no further action was taken.

Chronology of a historic preservation fiasco in the heart of Mt. Vernon (9/26/21)

“Somebody is culpable here,” says CHAP chairman as panel okays demolition of Mt. Vernon building (9/15/21)

CHAP commissioners approved demolition in mid-September, but requested that as much as possible of the building’s facade and interior features be saved for future reuse.

“The commission was appalled that this could happen,” Holcomb said today. “It was a terrible loss-loss situation. We lost a beautiful building in the neighborhood, and Landmark Partners lost a building that was a positive revenue producer.”

Workmen have since removed the building’s Italianate door moldings and imposing marble steps, all cracked by its tilt toward the construction site. Underground utility pipes are now being capped prior to demolition.

Work continues at the City House Charles project, on the site of the former Grand Central. Propped up on the right, the damaged 4 East Eager Street building. (Fern Shen)

Despite the damage done to the East Eager Street building (far right), construction continues at the City House project, which looms above the former Grand Central nightclub on Charles Street. (Fern Shen)

So Far: No Report, No Fines

At the September hearing, Assistant Housing Commissioner Eric Uttenreither said civil penalties were likely to be issued against Landmark Partners for building code violations.

A report by Uttenreither’s office detailing the circumstances surrounding the botched excavation was ordered by CHAP commissioners, but the report has not yet been forthcoming, Holcomb said.

HCD spokeswoman Tammy Hawley said she had no information on when the report will be completed or if fines will be imposed.

Landmark Partners is headed by Jonathan Pannoni and George E. Watson IV, whose earlier project to build apartments for “first responders” on South Gay Street has faltered.

Landmark Partners also owns 6 East Eager Street, the former Marburg Mansion, which it uses as its corporate address and the address of its major investor, Kevin McAllister of Access Holdings.

Pannoni did not respond to questions about his group’s future plans.

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