The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) today rejected the partial teardown of the historic St. Michael’s Church complex in East Baltimore.
The panel accepted the recommendation of the CHAP staff that the former schoolhouse and rectory “do contribute to the historic or architectural character” of the Butchers Hill district after hearing opposition from local residents and Councilman Warren Branch.
Developer Mark B. Manzo said he wanted to remove the buildings to provide parking for 16 new townhouses on the site bounded by Wolfe, Lombard, Chapel and Baltimore streets. He has a purchase agreement with the Redemptorists Fathers, who ran the complex for more than 150 years before closing the church in 2011.
“Parking in the area is horrendous,” Manzo told the panel, and his attempt to win over the Butchers Hill Association to his demolition plan was rebuffed. “They were quick to shoot me the rejection letter.”
“We looked at an apartment scenario,” Manzo added. “The problem is the cost of purchasing the properties. The purchase price [sought by the Redemptorists] is through the roof. We needed townhouses to hit their number and [demolition] to get the parking.”
Look for Parking Elsewhere
Councilman Warren Branch, who represents the district, said that if Manzo wants parking for his townhouses, he should seek vacant lots nearby. “I stand solidly in support of the community. I don’t want to see any changes,” Branch said.
Resident Lily Adlin called the new townhouses built in the neighborhood “boring” and insisted, “We should keep as much of the historic area as we can, for ourselves and for the enjoyment of tourists.”
Another resident, Sandra Sales, said that adaptive reuse, instead of demolition, is feasible because the buildings are structurally sound.
Manzo asked if the community would be willing to allow him to raze the eight-foot-high wall that encloses the priests’ former garden along Chapel Street. He also offered to preserve the facade of the school building.
Mark Moylan, who lives across Lombard Street from the complex, said that even taking down the rear of the school building would hurt the integrity of the block. “It needs to stay complete,” he told the commission, echoing the conclusion of the CHAP staff report.