Written by Tyler Gearhart
Sometimes it seems like preservationists’ work is never done, even when there are legal documents that prescribe a preservation-based solution. When the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Baltimore’s West Side commercial district one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1999, no advocacy group was more pleased than Preservation Maryland. Our organization had already been working diligently to prevent the large scale demolition of dozens of 19th and early 20th century structures in the area. With the 11 Most designation, the future of this area suddenly looked brighter, and a series of positive developments rolled out. No one expected that, 10 years later, the battle to save a portion of this area would blaze up and that the state’s highest court -- the Maryland Court of Appeals -- would be asked to insist on preservation objectives being met.
On November 23, 2009, Preservation Maryland joined the National Trust and Baltimore Heritage in filing an amicus brief to support the claim of an adjacent property owner that current redevelopment plans are inconsistent with a 2001 agreement between the City of Baltimore and the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office. The agreement cites specific preservation objectives for the area, including retaining certain historic buildings in any future redevelopment plan. The suit, brought by 120 West Fayette Street LLP early last year, was unsuccessful in a lower court.
At risk is the “Superblock,” the largest development parcel in the West Side and Market Center National Register Historic District. Under the terms of the flawed proposal accepted by the Baltimore Development Corporation, the City will transfer title to the three-block area to Lexington Square Partners, LLC, a group of development companies which announced a combination retail and residential plan for the area in April 2007. Lexington Square’s proposal does not respect the historic fabric of the neighborhood and misses the opportunity to properly rehabilitate the historic Superblock.
The West Side initiative championed by Preservation Maryland, Baltimore Heritage, and our partners is the largest preservation-based revitalization effort in the nation. We all are hoping for a speedy ruling on the matter to get the preservation treatment of the West Side, including the “Superblock,” back on track.
Tyler Gearhart is the executive director of Preservation Maryland.