Baltimore Press

Landlord-Church to Demolish Houses

Over the past 20 years, the First Apostolic Church of Caroline Street has acquired more than 100 properties and lots in and around the historic Washington Hill District, and the overwhelming majority are suffering “demolition . by neglect,” according to Councilman John Cain (D-l).

At a CHAP hearing last night, the church requested the demolition of 21 buildings, including properties that Bishop Franklin Showell earlier had promised to renovate into single-family homes. That plan, drawn up in 1995 by architect Jim Arnold, was authorized by CHAP, and a number of those buildings had been sold to the church by the city for $1 in 1993.

“For a church to own that property,” said Cain, who is also a CHAP Commissioner, “is despicable. We’ve been held hostage by an incompetent development team. We are los­ing historic buildings.”

At the city’s expense, a num­ber of other buildings owned by the church have already been- demolished as they had become a hazard to the com­munity.

Only one building has been reno­vated, a 19th centuiy federalist struc­ture that formerly had been a Methodist church and is now used as an education center for members of the First Apostolic Church. The rectoiy of the former Methodist church is slated to be reno­vated for apartments, even though a petition of about half of the area resi­dents states opposition to any rental properties in the area.

Another building, a vacant Gothic Lutheran church that sits next to the current Apostolic Church, is sched­uled for demolition to make room for a parking lot, according to a copy of the church’s master plan. The Lutheran church was the original home of the Apostolic congregation before its current box-shaped Brutalist building was built. At yes­terday’s hearing, the church was requesting permission to demolish the buildings at 1401-1417 E. Baltimore St., 1507 E. Baltimore St., 7-15 S. Caroline St., 6-12 S. Caroline, and 1406-1408 E. Lombard St., all of which were in the Eastside historic district.

At the hearing, it was established that maintenance of the buildings slat­ed first for renovation and now for demolition, had occurred since 1991. The only activity had been boarding up windows and installing a chain link fence. All of the buildings are vacant. One resi­dent noted that the upper windows had never been boarded. An inspec­tion of the property confirmed her allegation.

According to the church’s develop­ment consultant, Herchelle Reed- Morris, the church now plans to build new attached homes in the 1400 block of East Baltimore Street, to be completed by year 2000. Morris said that funding was in place to demolish the Caroline and Baltimore Street buildings, but the money for con­struction was only “proposed fund­ing.” The treasurer of the church, Paul Showell, the Bishop’s brother, would offer no details for funding the project.

During a recess of the hearing, Commissioner James Crockett told the Press that he believed “they don’t have any money and they never intended on rehabbing those houses…they should be selling them off.” The church, according to Paul Showell, won’t consider that option.

Cain noted that such projects did not take four years, and that other developers were often pushing the city to speed up the permit process. Morris defended the church by stat­ing that the property was not in a profitable sector, and that the church was small. However, the church is one of the largest and wealthiest in the city. Its property skirts both downtown and Fell’s Point.

Ironically, the properties are within five blocks of the Baltimore Development Corporation’s Eastside initiative, which is spending $6 mil­lion to leveling eight city blocks.

The 27 community residents attending the hearing were unani­mous in their contempt for the church’s promise to develop its blighted properties. Many said that the Bishop had broken promises for a decade. They said they could not believe anything the church put for­ward. It was also noted that the church would not communicate with Earl’s Place, a local transitional com­munity for the homeless, which was seeking to purchase the buildings slated for demolition on East Lombard Street.

Complaints were heard of church parishioners singing gospel hymns at 3 in the morning and parking in pri­vate lots.

After an hour and a half of emo­tional debate among the commission­ers, CHAP voted to allow the Caroline Street buildings and all but two of the Baltimore Street buildings to be demolished.

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